Richard Lee Rudd is an American former racing car driver in the NASCAR Cup and the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He made 23 career wins before retiring in 2007. The year he retired, Rudd was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame. He was also named to the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame.
Rudd is also the uncle of fellow NASCAR driver, Jason Rudd, and actor Skeet Ulrich.
Born in South Norfolk, Virginia, Rudd was named Richard Lee Rudd to parents Margaret and Alvin. His dad is the president of Al Rudd Autoparts, and Richard was exposed to cars at an early age.
As a teen, he began racing in motocross and karting. When he turned 18, he started stock car racing.
Rudd made his NASCAR debut in 1975 when he drove at the North Carolina Speedway. He took over driving the No.10 Ford for Bill Champion who was a friend of the family. He finished in 11th place.
He would go on to race three more times for Champion with his best finish being 10th place at the Bristol Motor Speedway.
In 1976, he began racing for his father before going full-time in 1977. He drove the No.22 and had many Top 10 finishes that year. He would also go on to be named the Winston Cup Series 1977 Rookie of the Year.
For the rest of the 70s, he would drive for Junie Donlavey.
1980 to 1987, Changes in the NASCAR Ruling
In 1980, Rudd signed to drive for his father and DK Ulrich. In 1981, he went on and signed with DiGard Motorsports, driving their No.88 car. With DiGard, Rudd would go on to win his first three pole positions. The following year, he signed with Childress Racing and would drive the No.3 Pontiac.
In 1984, Rudd began driving the No.15 Ford for Bud Moore. This was after Dale Earnhardt was signed to Childress and began driving the No.3 Pontiac. This year, Rudd was involved in a horrific crash and sustained several injuries.
To be able to race in the Daytona 500, he had to tape his eyes open and use a flak jacket for his rib injury. NASCAR would later institute a policy where they would examine the players before each race to make sure that they were fit to drive.
Rudd would later sign with Moore Engineering. He left the group at the end of 1987.
The late 80s to early 90s, Further Changes to NASCAR Rulings
After leaving Moore, Rudd would go on to drive for King Racing. He would be given the Buick Regal No.26, which was owned by Kenny Bernstein. Rudd struggled with engine failures throughout 1988. He also suffered a knee injury and in 1989, he was fined $10,000 for spinning Earnhardt late in the race.
His only win in 1989 was at the Sears Point event. In 1990, he signed with Hendrick Motorsports and drove the No.5 Chevrolet Lumina. He won The Bud at the Glen and finished the year seventh in the standings.
In the same year, Rudd was involved in a deadly pit road accident at the Atlanta Journal 500. He careened into Bill Elliot’s pit and hit Mike Rich, who was Elliot’s tire changer. Rich’s death led to NASCAR implementing pit road speed limits at every NASCAR Track.
Tide and the Rest of the 90s
In 1994, Rudd formed his race team and would drive sponsored by Tide. His race team was called Rudd Performance Motorsports. He drove a No.10 Ford Thunderbird.
His first win as an owner/driver was at the New Hampshire International Speedway. This led to fifth-place points finish. He would win again at the Dura Lube 500 and the at the 1996 North Carolina Speedway.
In 1998, he won at the Martinsville Speedway but he had suffered from burns all over his body due to a faulty cooling system. He gave his victory lane interview while lying on the ground with an oxygen mask on.
In 1999, Tide withdrew its sponsorship. Instead of looking for another sponsor, Rudd chose to close his team and liquidate his equipment.
The First Half of the 2000s
After closing his team, Rudd began driving for Robert Yates Racing and was given the No.28 Ford Taurus, which was sponsored by Texaco/Havoline. He ended the 2000 season with two poles but without any victories.
He got his first win in the 21st century at the Pocono Raceway in 2001. He would later win again at Richmond. At the end of 2002, he left Yates and signed with Wood Brothers Racing, and in 2004, he a career pole at Talladega.
Taking a Break, Quick Return, and Retirement
At the end of 2005, Rudd announced that he would take a break from racing. He would spend most of 2006 out of racing. He would only go on to make several official appearances that year including the 2006 Carl Casper’s Custom Auto Show.
Late in 2006, Rudd returned to drive for Yates and the No.88 Ford. He finished in the seventh spot at the Coca-Cola 600.
He would retire after the 2007 season.
Career Highlights and Awards
- 1977 Winston Cup Series Rookie ofthe Year
- 1992 IROC Champion
- 1997 Brickyard 400 Winner
- 1998 Named one of NASCAR’s 50Greatest Drivers
- 2006 Dan Wheldon Cup (Robo-Pong 200)winner
- 2006 Virginian of the Year
- 2007 Virginia Sports Hall of Fameinductee
- 2010 Hampton Roads Sports Hall ofFame inductee
- Most career starts in Nextel CupSeries modern era (906)
NASCAR Cup Series Career
Top Tens: 374
Best finish - 2nd (1991)
First race - 1975 Carolina 500 (Rockingham)
Last race - 2007 Ford 400 (Homestead)
First win - 1983 Budweiser 400 (Riverside)
Last win - 2002 Dodge/Save Mart 350 (Sonoma)
NASCAR Xfinity Series Career
Top Tens: 1
First race - 1983 Sportsman 200 (Dover)
Last race - 1983 Miller Time 300 (Charlotte)
First win - 1983 Sportsman 200 (Dover)