David Ragan has gone from relative obscurity to one of the most successful racing teams in NASCAR and most recently to a smaller team (Front Row Motorsports) that consistently fights for sponsorship dollars and track position. Through all of the ups and downs that come with the sport, Ragan says his faith and his humble beginnings help him deal with it all.
In this CSJ Conversation, Ragan talks about how he got started, about his religious upbringing, and about his desire to race for years to come:
Chad Bonham: How did you get started in racing?
David Ragan: My dad was racing when I was real young. I’ve always been around racecars. My father and my uncle owned a Chevrolet dealership and a parts store so I was introduced to racecars and to parts and the mechanical side of things at a pretty young age. Dad was still racing so it was difficult for me to start racing until he slowed down and that was about the age of 12. Back then it was a hobby. It was a family event. We could go out on the weekend and spend family time together. Most families have different activities whether it’s going to the mountains or going to the lake. Ours was going to the racetrack. It started out strictly as something we were doing for fun. We were very competitive but we had a good time with it.
Bonham: How did things change when you started racing more competitively as an 18-year old?
Ragan: It was a little bit intimidating but I had a lot of confidence. I thought that just because I was a good legends car driver or a good late model driver that I could come out and be a successful NASCAR driver just right off the bat and it didn’t work that way. I was introduced to a lot more challenges than I knew were out there. I basically had to learn from a lot of good experiences and bad experiences. That’s what this last few years has been about.
Bonham: How did being on the “Driver X” television show impact your career?
Ragan: If it weren’t for the “Driver X” show I certainly wouldn’t be here today. I was driving for Wayne Day out of Nashville in the ARCA Re/Max series and I had run some truck races and some Busch (now XFINITY) Series races. Robert Yates was helping out with the engines and he told Jack Roush that I should be on that show. I ended up being one of the finalists and that led to my opportunity in the truck series.
Bonham: One of your first big breaks was replacing Mark Martin in the #6 car. How much pressure was that on someone who was young as you were at the time?
Ragan: We were looking at it from two different sides. You’re getting into a first class ride with a veteran crew chief in Jimmy Fennig. We knew our engines were going to be good and our chassis were going to be top notch. That gave us a lot of extra confidence. But at the same time, you’re hopping into a car that no one else has driven in the past 15 years. On one hand, it was a lot of pressure, but on the other hand, being surrounded by the good people and the good technology at Roush Racing were things that made my confidence grow.
Bonham: Tell me about your faith background.
Ragan: I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church in Unadilla, Georgia. My grandparents and my mom and dad were great influences. I was very fortunate to have good family values and a lot of good people teaching me throughout the years. I grew up in a church that helped me have confidence in the Lord to work through tough situations. This world’s a tough place to live in and you have to have something to fall back on. Certainly, my parents were a big part of that and people in our church community were always there when things were tough. At the end of the day, it’s up to me to get the job done but it’s always nice to have someone to help you get through the tough week.”
Bonham: How do you handle the ups and downs that are associated with auto racing?
Ragan: There were a lot of tough nights when we only had one race car and I tore it up and we didn’t know if we had enough funds to keep racing. That’s when you have to ask the Lord for some help and some guidance to do the right thing. A lot of times it’s tough to make the decision on your own. You know what you want to do and it always helps to have someone to rely on to help you out. I can remember some tough nights where I was questioning myself. “Can I really drive?” or, “Is this the right thing for me to do?” But at the end of the day, a lot of prayers were answered and certainly things worked out for the good.
Bonham: How much do you rely on the ministry of Motor Racing Outreach (MRO)?
Ragan: It’s tough to have any type of normal worship service or anyone that you can go to and ask those tough questions because of our travel. I think it’s great that Motor Racing Outreach and the people involved put out the effort to work with our busy schedules. A lot of drivers and their families count on them every weekend. It’s been a blessing for us. My father was around the sport when MRO was introduced back in the ‘80s. It’s a good thing to know that they’re there for you throughout the weekend whether you’re in California, New Hampshire or Daytona.
Bonham: How long do you see yourself doing this?
Ragan: I want to enjoy myself and enjoy the challenge. I love to compete at the top level of NASCAR. I love my job. I love what I do. I’m very fortunate that God has given me the strength and the courage and the people around me to help me do what I do. As long as I have that kind of attitude and it’s still fun to be away from home 40 weekends a year, hopefully I’ll be here for a long time.
Photos: Chris Graythen/Getty Images; Adam Glanzman/Getty Images; (via NASCARMedia.com)