Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with David Ragan, who is in his first year driving for Front Row Motorsports after spending five seasons at Roush Fenway Racing.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
DR: Oh, I can remember probably 75 to 80 percent of them, back to the short tracks growing up. Obviously, going back and watching videos and having pictures and your mom's scrapbook and stuff like that, it certainly helps you remember some of those races.
SBN: Does your mom still scrapbook your races now?
DR: She's fallen off the last couple years because of the volume of stuff has gotten a little more. And the accessibility – you can go online and find just about anything. But as a kid running Legends cars and Late Model cars and my first few ARCA starts, we have a nice little scrapbook full of Polaroids.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
DR: It would be a Bandolero car at Atlanta Motor Speedway at the end of '97. It was a little silver car and it was No. 77 from when my dad (Ken Ragan) ran some. I remember we wrecked the week prior. I was running well and I wrecked, and so it was pretty cool to come back and win.
When you wreck at 11 years old, you think the car is just demolished. But I think all I did was bend a spindle or something, and it was like a $100 fix when I thought I had destroyed the car. You learn that stuff is fixable, and we went back and won the next week.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in the Sprint Cup Series?
DR: I think Matt Kenseth. He's one of the better racers. He's a very hard racer, but he's usually very clean and respectful. If I've got a better car than Matt on a day, I look forward to catching him and saying, 'Hey, it's going to be a fun race.' He wants to take care of his equipment and get to the end. I think being teammates over the years certainly helped that, too. He's a lot of fun to race with, and Mark Martin is in that category, too.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, who is a driver that always seems to make it extra hard on you?
DR: Bobby Labonte is always real hard to pass for us. We seem to have a good relationship and we're buddies, but damn if he doesn't just piss me off sometimes trying to pass him. Especially this year, we always seem to be running in the high teens and low 20s right with each other a lot, and he races the heck out of me. We're buddies, but he does make me mad on occasion.
SBN: It's funny you say that, because the only other driver to mention Labonte for that question so far is your teammate, David Gilliland.
DR: (Laughs) Yeah, David and Bobby – they might be a little bit more mad at each other. We often laugh about that.
SBN: How would you describe your personal code of conduct on the track?
DR: I want to be fair. If I have a good car that can drive to the front or have a shot to win, I'm going to race everyone extra hard and not give anything. I will be the most stubborn guy on the racetrack. But if I've got a car that's off a little bit and we're going to run 15th or 20th, then I'm going to be very fair. When leaders catch me, I try not to be 'that guy' who races them too hard and hangs on their right-rear quarterpanel and pisses them off.
When they see me, I like for guys to know that if I'm running in the top five or top 10 and we've got a good car, I'm going to be a bitch to pass. But if we're running 20th and it's lap 100, I may be one of the easier ones to pass.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of people you owe for on-track payback?
DR: A mental list is good, and I definitely think about those guys, but usually it's your crew members who never let you live it down. They're the ones who are always poking your chest and act as your little guy on that shoulder saying, 'Remember what he did to us three weeks ago? Get him back, get him back!'
Sometimes they egg it on as much as anyone. If I do happen to forget about a couple instances, I'm sure my spotter, crew chief and guys on the team will be the first ones to remind me.
SBN: Interesting. No one has mentioned the crew guys before.
DR: Oh yeah. They enjoy having some action and some rivalries between the drivers. With some of the long, caution-free races we've had this year, I think the guys on the team want to see some action just as bad as anybody.
SBN: If you could turn back time, who is a driver from the past you'd like to team with?
DR: I'd love to race some with my dad. He never ran professionally full time, but he ran about 50 Cup races over a period of eight years, and I wasn't even born at some part of that. It'd be cool to get to race with my dad and see what kind of racer he was. You hear stories and you hear people talking about it, but I'd like to see firsthand.
Besides my dad, you'd have to pick Dale Earnhardt. He was a guy I never knew or got to race with, so he'd be one I'd pick.
SBN: Do you have any memories of your dad racing at all when you were growing up?
DR: Just on the short tracks. I have no memory of him racing any NASCAR stock car stuff. When I was 5 or 6 years old in the early 90s, he was running some dirt cars and Midgets around the Southeast, and I can remember that a little.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
DR: I'm a pretty level guy, you know? I don't get real excited, I don't get really down. I'm pretty straightforward. But I would say nervous to the point of your stomach turning a little bit – maybe having some hot flashes – is probably when I proposed to (fiancée) Jacquelyn this offseason.
That was kind of nerve-wracking. You've got the ring – where do you put it when you go out to propose? Do you put in your pocket? Do you put it in your sock? Do you hold it in your hand? You don't want to lose it. Plus, you know people are going to be around and you think she's going to say yes, but you just don't really know. So I was pretty nervous then. But since then, all this racing stuff is kind of second nature to me.
SBN: Were you pretty smooth when the actual proposal came out of your mouth?
DR: No, I wasn't that smooth. But she wasn't, either. So we kind of laughed about it after the fact. (Laughs) I caught her off guard, and we were kind of stumbling around and we just kind of busted out laughing. It was funny.
SBN: You guys meet so many fans at appearances and the track, and sometimes they can ask uncomfortable questions. Have you had any awkward moments with a fan recently?
DR: Oh yeah, you have awkward fan moments all the time. You're always asked to sign weird stuff, whether it's articles of clothing or whatever. The weirdest thing is when a parent wants you to sign their newborn baby's arm or something like that. And you know that's not right, but you don't want to cause a scene, so you try to make a joke and say, 'I can't do it' or something without making them mad. That's a little disturbing sometimes.
Probably the most uncomfortable feeling is when a fan will give you their cell phone and say, 'Hey, so-and-so is on the line. Talk to them!' What do you say? What do you do? It catches you off guard, but you always seem to roll with the punches. And the fans are always here having a good time, so it's fun.
SBN: So what do you say if a fan hands you the phone and tells you to talk to someone?
DR: You usually say, 'My name is David, what's your name? What are you wearing?' Just kidding! I don't ask, 'What are you wearing?'
No, you usually say, 'What's happening? Why aren't you here at the races?' And then they usually ask me, 'Tell Dale Jr. hey,' or something like that. So I usually have some favors to go do after I talk to an anonymous fan on the phone.
SBN: After you retire someday – and you had to choose one of these jobs – would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official?
DR: Man, both sides have some pretty good perks. But I'd have to be a NASCAR official. They get to see and do a lot of things in the sport that the outsiders don't even get to see until months down the road. So I think that's pretty neat that they're instrumental in how the sport is going to steer one way or the other. It'd be cool to sit in on some of those meetings and have a say or voice your opinion on the next moves of the NASCAR world. And everyone respects those guys, so I think a NASCAR official shirt would look good on me.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
DR: You know, when I first started with Roush, everyone asked, 'What's it like to take over the 6 car? What's it like to take over for Mark Martin?' And that gets pretty old for the first couple years.
But I'd say the biggest thing people ask is they want to make a Ronald Reagan comment: 'Oh, your last name is Ragan. How's Ronald doing? Are you family to Ronald Reagan? Have you ever flown on Air Force One?' And they know good and well we're not kin, but I guess they're trying to be funny. Sometimes that gets a little old.
SBN: I've been asking each person to give me a question for the next guy, and last week it was Austin Dillon. He wanted to know this: 'What would you do if Danica wrecked you after a race?'
DR: I would probably react like I would if it was any other guy: I wouldn't say anything, wouldn't raise my voice, wouldn't pull a Kurt Busch on the radio. I would come on into the garage and act like nothing happened.
But the very next week, they would not finish the race. I'm one of those guys where I'm not going to cause a big scene or run my mouth or say a whole lot, but I'll be kind of waiting in the bushes the next week. I would get them. I wouldn't wait until the next short track or the next road course or any of that junk; I would finish my business the next week.
SBN: Next week's 12 Questions is with Ron Fellows. Can you help me out with a question for him?
DR: Well, if it wasn't going to be Ron, my question would be, 'In light of all the NASCAR restart controversy, explain to me the NASCAR restart procedures.' But I don't know if that's fair to Ron. (Laughs)
For Ron, I'd like to know as a race fan and a fan of Ron Fellows, what's the most fun car he's driven? He's driven Daytona Prototypes to Corvettes to open-wheel cars to stock cars, so which is the most fun? I'd like to know that – and it's probably not going to be a stock car.
ARCHIVE: Catch up with all the previous 12 Questions interviews from this season.