Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: David Ragan on Kansas, Small Teams and Big Sponsors

When you think of David Ragan, your mind may immediately turn to the infamous “dart without feathers” moniker Tony Stewart bestowed upon Ragan in his rookie year. However, there is much more to the Georgia driver than an incident that took place back in 2007. His tenure with Roush Fenway Racing lasted from 2007 through 2011, but was rarely successful, resulting in only one win, and Ragan never finished any higher than 13th in points. After losing a full-time sponsor in UPS, Ragan left RFR and found a new home at Front Row Motorsports. Last year was his first full season with the team, and they earned a total of one top 5, two top 10s, and finished 28th in the standings, a baseline they have hoped to build on in 2013. After eight races, it’s been a tough road thus far – the No. 34 car is still searching for its first top-10 result – but Ragan still feels that his team can and will improve.

Ragan sat down with Summer Bedgood over the weekend in Kansas to discuss the ups and downs of racing in the Sprint Cup Series.

Summer Bedgood, Frontstretch.com: How did you like the unseasonably cold weather this weekend in Kansas?

David Ragan: Sunday was the best day by far. It’s been chilly. We’re ready to get back to the East Coast for some 70s and 80s.

Bedgood: How has the wind affected the way the car drives?

Ragan: You know, the wind affects your car a little bit. You gotta think, you’re going 200 miles per hour, or 180 or 190, a 10 or 15 mile an hour gust isn’t going to do a whole lot. When the wind shifts a little bit, you can definitely feel the car move around. Our Ford’s been pretty good. We made a few adjustments on it this morning to make it better, so we’re optimistic.

Bedgood: You guys are an underfunded team. How has sponsorship played out for you guys?

David Ragan is committed to making Front Row Motorsports a weekly contender.

Ragan: We’ve got a couple of sponsors for the season. We’ve got a lot of races sold, but we have a lot of races unsold. CSX Railroad, one of our primary sponsors throughout the year and associate all year long, Peanut Patch Peanuts, obviously Taco Bell and Long John Silver’s, but our owner, Bob Jenkins, he really puts a lot of extra personal money into our team to try and keep it going forward and growing. Certainly without his subsidy, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We do have a lot of good partners, but we need a couple more to fill up the whole season.

Bedgood: Is there a bit of a culture shock when you go from a multi-million dollar team like Roush Fenway to basically scraping for sponsors?

Ragan: It definitely is a challenge to going from a team with one fully-funded sponsor to multiple sponsors. But that’s kind of the way the whole series has shifted a little; finding companies to spend $18, $20, $22, $24 million are few and far between. So you see even the larger teams putting two and three programs and companies together to fill out the season. This is an expensive sport and we’re working hard to grow our sponsor lineup. At the same time, our team owner is doing a good job keeping the team going.

Bedgood: Why do you think your time at Roush Fenway Racing didn’t work out in the long run?

Ragan: Well, I think that ultimately UPS leaving Roush as a full-time sponsor — we would have liked to continue the program in the 6 car. I think I was a young, immature guy at times back when I was 20 and 21 years old. When I got that first win and sat on a couple of poles and led some laps, it was a solid year for us. But when you lose your primary sponsorship and don’t have anything going forward, you can’t sustain like that.

Bedgood: Did you ever explore the option of maybe having the opportunity to go to a lower series like Nationwide or Trucks, similar to what Elliott Sadler has done?

Ragan: You think about all the options. You think about Nationwide, you think about the Truck Series, but for me being a young guy, I wanted to stay in the Cup Series. Sometimes it is difficult once you go back and take that step back to a Nationwide car, it’s difficult to get back into the Cup Series. I had an opportunity to stay with Ford Racing at Front Row Motorsports, a smaller team that was growing, and had a lot of potential, and a different venue, and I’m glad I did that. Bob Jenkins; our general manager, Jerry Freeze; our crew chief; a lot of good people [and I] made a lot of good friends [in] the last year and a half. We’ve still got a lot of hard work in front of us to get to a more competitive, race-winning team, but it’s been a good transition for sure.

Bedgood: What’s the atmosphere like here at Front Row?

Ragan: All the guys are great. We’re working hard to get to that next step. It’s a little different racing for top 15s and top 20s versus racing for wins every single week. But we’ve got goals that we’ve set, we work hard to obtain them, and we’ve got some really good people here.

Bedgood: Do you think you’re getting to that point where you can start racing for more top 10s and 15s?

It’s been a rough year for Ragan thus far; two wrecks to start the season have been followed by a best finish of just 21st.

Ragan: Slowly but surely. Nothing happens overnight in this sport unless you can drop $20 or $25 million at the flip of a coin. But the people who spend that kind of money that quick usually aren’t around very long. You look at some of the larger teams that came into the sport like Ginn Motorsports or even Red Bull who came in, spent a lot of money over a couple of years, and they make bad decisions and they get burnt out. I’m very happy that our team owner Bob takes it from a different approach and is a little more conservative; he’s got a better long-term plan.

Bedgood: Looking forward, what would you consider a successful year for your team?

Ragan: A successful year for our team is to get a couple of top 10s, improve our points position from last year to this year — I think we finished 29th in points last year — and if we can improve that place by a couple spots, that would be a successful year. We know we’re not gonna win the championship or contend for a Chase spot, but we want to make steady improvement and we want to make the improvement from last year.

Bedgood: Is there a favorite barbeque place you have in the Kansas City area?

Ragan: We always go to Jack Stack’s barbeque. It’s very good. But I grew up in Georgia and we’ve got great barbeque there and it’s not a lot different. Everyone raves over the barbeque here, but I live in North Carolina which is known for good barbeque. Georgia’s got some great barbeque. I’d still prefer my Georgia barbeque. It’s just barbeque here.

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