This weekend’s 2019 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks the end to David Ragan‘s full-time driving career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
A career spanning almost a decade and a half at the top level of North American motorsports has included plenty of ups and downs, as Ragan competed for different teams, drove different cars, raced under different rules formats, aerodynamic packages — the list goes on.
From a Georgia kid with barely any NASCAR experience, to replacing Mark Martin in the No. 6 car for Roush Racing, to winning at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, to being known as the proverbial “nice guy” in the sport, Ragan’s career leaves a lot to be discussed.
Frontstretch recently sat down with Ragan at Las Vegas Motor Speedway a few weeks ago to discuss his feelings on the impending end to his full-time driving career.
This conversation was also posted in audio on the Victory Lane Podcast.
Davey Segal, Frontstretch: What went into the decision-making process to step away from full-time Cup racing and how much did the performance of the last three to four years weigh into that?
David Ragan: The last few years, you kind of get in that rhythm of getting with Front Row Motorsports, helping to grow and cultivate this team with a good foundation for this team to grow. Certainly, as we added a third team and added new Mustangs over the offseason, as my kids got a little older, they got a little more fun to be around. You can go and do different things, travel — they develop personalities and start their lives.
You know, when they’re little babies, for me, you don’t have much of a connection with an infant or one- to two-year-old. But once they get to three, four, five years old, you can have conversations with them, you can see what kind of personalities they’re going to be. A combination of going through the same routine on the Cup side after 12-13 years, not much has changed, and you say, ‘Hey, what am I really doing here?’
And then on the other side, you’re missing out on a lot as they’re growing up and developing as young children. My wife and I have been married for seven years now. It’s important for us to spend time together, and everything just came to a head.
Segal: Tell me a little about your kids. What do they like to do?
Ragan: They have a lot of interests. One’s in preschool and one’s in kindergarten. They have swimming lessons, playing soccer on Saturdays, they enjoy gymnastics and stuff like that. Some of it, we haven’t been able to allow them to pursue certain interests because of my schedule. My wife can only be in one place at one time, she can’t get all over the place. And when I’m home, I want to spend some time with them and not have them out doing a lot of other things. I don’t know what they’ll look like next year when I have a bit of a more predictable schedule and am some a little more. But they love to be out and about, they love to travel and do things around town, be involved with other kids their age.
Segal: Are you a crazy soccer dad?
Ragan: I think as they get older, I’ll be pretty passionate. I do want them to play good. There are winners and losers in this world, and I don’t want them to be a loser. I want them to get out there, compete and win.
Segal: You think they have the itch to race at all?
Ragan: Racing’s too expensive for most families to pursue at a young age. And that’s a problem that we have, and I really hate that. Racing is such a good hobby for families to spend time together, keep the kids out of trouble and help them mature at a faster rate. I would love to to have my kids involved in motorsports. I love racing, I have race shops, I have tools and equipment but it’s too expensive. You would have to spend $50,000-$100,000 a year when they’re seven, eight years old racing, and I think that is absolutely insane to spend that kind of money on a seven- to eight-year-old, all that for a hobby.
I don’t know that that’s ever going to change, but with the current landscape of the cost of short track racing, I hope they have zero interest in racing. But if that would ever change, there’s nothing that would make me more happy to have a racecar to tune on for my children. But no, I hope that they play soccer and tennis and golf — they can get a good scholarship. That’s a lot cheaper than buying racecars.
Segal: How often do your kids come to the racetrack?
Ragan: They love coming to the race track, they think it’s cool to stay in a motorhome and to see some airplanes and helicopters flying around, lots of people in the grandstands. They’re still young, they don’t really get what’s going on the racetrack. They like to see the cars, enjoy the people and walk through the garage. It’s a big spectacle in their eyes. They come to six to eight races per year. It’s hard to fly a family of four to and from the races. Sometimes, I don’t want them at the racetrack because I’m working. I don’t want to be distracted. I don’t want to sound mean, but this is my workplace. I don’t really want a lot of friends, family and distractions running around.
Segal: What are some opportunities you want to pursue in the world of racing now that you’ll have more time?
Ragan: I’ve had opportunities to go run short track cars over the years, a few road racing cars, the [Gander Outdoors] Truck and Xfinity Series. I’ve had a few people call me from time to time to go race. I feel like I didn’t have the extra time to devote to another race team and racing series with my current schedule the Cup Series. There’s very limited time to go and pursue other interests without taking away from my family or responsibilities at FRM.
I don’t really know what they’ll look like. I’ve had a few conversations, but I’d love to race some. I’d love to run a few short track Truck races, look at the IMSA schedule, my legends car and some short track races around the southeast. We’ll have to see what pops up and see if I can do them or not.
Segal: Sorry if this comes off the wrong way, but I thought you were way older. You’re only 33 years old, but have been racing in Cup for 13 years.
Ragan: I feel young, but I kind of like older stuff. I go to bed early, I don’t like loud music … I’m definitely a 60-year-old in a 33 year old’s body. When I go to concerts, I’m like, ‘This is too loud. I wish they’d turn it down a little bit.’ I guess that’s a good thing though.
Segal: Your career highlights are those two wins at Talladega and Daytona. Let’s go one by one. What do you remember about those days?
Ragan: The Daytona win was much needed. We came off a Daytona 500 that year where we should’ve/could’ve won. We led a lot of laps, Trevor [Bayne] was a good car pushing me, but it didn’t work out. We had some good runs up until that point, we were close. That was a pivotal point in my career. UPS was going to leave, I didn’t know if I was going to be back at Roush at that time — it was huge for me to get a win for UPS driving the No. 6 car. I don’t remember a lot about the specific race. I had Matt Kenseth as a teammate who was committed to pushing at the end.
Segal: And Talladega?
Ragan: We were certainly not expected to win that race. I think we’d run well on the plate tracks that year. That car drove good, but at the end, when I had a run, I was able to make the moves. It’s not always that easy to do that. When they went high, I was able to go low. David (Gilliland) was able to push — that was a real special day. Our cars were fast when they needed to be.
Segal: What are some other races that people may not remember but you do?
Ragan: I was so young, inexperienced and stupid my first two, three years. I had fast racecars, and we were able to get some top fives and top 10s. I had no idea how to race 500-mile races, how to set up a car for a long run, how to manage tires, how to come on and off pit road. I felt like I could drive fast, but I didn’t have the right person training me, I wasn’t asking the right questions.
I think of a couple races in 2008. We should’ve won that second Michigan [International Speedway] race. We ran out of gas in Homestead [-Miami Speedway], I had no idea how to save fuel. When I drove for MWR [Michael Waltrip Racing] in 2015, we had a couple races we could’ve won, but we were off on pit cycles. Finishing second in the Coke 600 in 2011. There’s a couple of what ifs in there that maybe if I was smarter I could’ve had some more wins. I just didn’t do a good job of getting up to speed.
Segal: You wound up going straight into that No. 6 car replacing Mark Martin … what was that pressure like?
Ragan: I was inexperienced. I’d run 15-16 ARCA races and 16-18 Truck races, and they put me full-time in Cup. I was fast, though, I didn’t know how to race. If that opportunity came up again, I’d do it again. I was a kid trying to get the opportunity to drive a NASCAR Cup car, and that was laid in front of me. I had to take it, I couldn’t wait around. Sometimes things come — you’ve gotta swim or drown. I borderline drowned, but I was able to swim and doggy paddle for awhile. That was a very stressful time. There were periods of time at RFR when I hated driving. I hated going to the racetrack, going to the shop, because we didn’t run as good as we needed to, lots of pressure, teams are spending a lot of money on cars and you had to perform. Sometimes it wasn’t that much fun. But we made it out okay.
Segal: Throughout your Cup years, you’ve seen so many changes — formats, cars, drivers. How have you managed to stay up to date with all of them?
Ragan: The sport has changed a lot over the years. I think there’s been some really good changes that have helped the racing and [NASCAR] made some changes they regret. Over the last year or two, we’ve seen some of the best racing we’ve ever seen, certainly this year. The fans like it watching on TV and in the grandstands. We’ve gotta have closer, competitive, tighter racing. And this year, it’s been really good.
Segal: You’ve been widely regarded as one of the nice guys, the nicest guy in the garage. How does that make you feel?
Ragan: That’s nice. It’s a testament to my parents and how they raised me. I just tried to be who I am. Sometimes that’s hurt me. Maybe I’ve lost out on a few deals and opportunities from just being real and a nice guy. I felt like if I was in another job setting, I would’ve still been the David Ragan — be who I am, love and respect other people.