When NASCAR veteran David Ragan announced his retirement from full-time driving in 2019, it came as quite the shock to the racing community and his fan base.
While he has hung up his full-time firesuit, he has not stepped away from the sport entirely. The Unadilla, Ga. native has jumped on track for a handful of races over the past season-and-a-half.
I was able to catch up with Ragan to learn how he is still involved with and invested in the sport he loves, the Next Gen car, the state of the sport, and life away from the track.
Let’s take a Hot Lap with David Ragan!
Terra Jones: We’ll start with the question all your fans are wondering. In 2020, you had plans to run more races than the three you were able to. COVID and the lack of qualifying limited that for you. You attempted the Daytona 500 this season. Unfortunately, the day was cut short for you and your team. So, looking ahead, what are your on-track plans for the rest of 2021?
David Ragan: I don’t have anything set in stone. I would love to run a couple of races, but with the limited track time and no qualifying for most of these races, it’s hard for a team to pop in and run a third or fourth car with no points…but I don’t have anything locked down at the moment.
My schedule seems to be getting busier and busier with my Ford testing duties, my FOX stuff, and just normal family things. If the stars align, I may pop in and run a race here or there, but I don’t have anything scheduled at the moment.
Jones: While racing full time, you were heavily involved with Shriners Hospitals for Children. In what ways are you still able to be involved with the children and families there?
Ragan: I’ve been trying to still support their motorsports program. They are a partner with Jesse Little and BJ McLeod (Motorsports). I’ve tried to encourage Jesse and give him some advice on how to navigate through things. He’s been doing some neat fundraising things with the Hospital and the racing community.
And I still have some intentions of getting back to some hospitals when we can get back in and start doing some visitations, hopefully later on this year. But mostly, just staying in touch with my local Shriners Chapter here in Charlotte. We have some car shows and different fundraising events later on this summer that I’ll take one of our old NASCAR race cars to.
So, different stuff like that, but nothing at the national level. With a lot of the big events not taking place and the limited ways that we can navigate through the hospitals, it’s kind of on pause. But hopefully not for too much longer!
Jones: Hopefully! I am sure it’s hard to not be there. I know your visits brought joy to so many children and their families, but you could see the enjoyment on your face too!
Now, after leaving the drivers seat, some NASCAR drivers take on team ownership, like your former teammate, Matt Tifft. Some, venture into broadcasting. You are a regular analyst on Race Hub, but any plans to dive into ownership or jump in the booth for a race sometime?
Ragan: No plans for team ownership! (laughs) It’s too expensive. I firmly believe to make a small fortune, you must start with a large fortune, and I don’t have a net worth of half a billion dollars in order to go start a race team. That’s not my forte! It’s too rich for my blood.
Jones: And what about the booth?
Ragan: You know, I don’t really want to travel! If I wanted to travel, I would have stayed driving. Never say never. But I really love doing the studio work here in Charlotte. It allows me to stay involved in the sport. I can give my opinion to all the NASCAR fans and break down some of the races and all the things that are going on. But as far as hopping on an airplane and staying in hotels, traveling back and forth, I don’t have a desire to do that at the current moment.
Jones: That is understandable. I know you also have some livestock. Is it technically a “farm” or just a menagerie of animals?
Ragan: Well, the definition of a farm is something that creates revenue, and this does not create any revenue. (laughs) It just costs money!
Our kids love animals. And we like for them to know where their eggs, meat, and dairy comes from. So we just have, more or less, some pets. Our kids can see how animals eat. It gives them some chores around the house and responsibility. It’s just some different pets for them to have fun with.
Jones: There you go! That’s all important for sure!
Now, between that and your family, I’m sure you stay very busy. However, I heard you’re assisting with driver development? Can you share a bit more about that?
Ragan: So, part of my duties with Ford is to be a liason betwen some of the young drivers and Ford Performance. Ford Performance has a lot of tools for the young drivers and race teams to use to help prepare for the race weekends. With limited track time, the simulation and some of the analytics that Ford has is a really great way for these race teams to better prepare for the race weekends.
I go to the simulator a couple days a week with some of the DGR (Crosley) teams, specifically Hailie Deegan – just being a rookie and not having a lot of experience at these race tracks. I worked with a couple of the Xfinity guys a little bit here and a little bit there. I just give them some insight on what Ford can offer them to improve their racing IQ and some things they can look for when they’re doing some development work on the simulator.
That’s been fun. I feel like over the course of my career, I certainly learned a lot. I made some good moves, and some bad moves, on track! And if I can help to prevent them from making some of those same mistakes, that’ll be an easier way that they can succeed and try to keep Ford in victory lane!
Jones: That’s really awesome! You’re also working closely with Ford on the Next Gen car. What has been your direct involvement there?
Ragan: I’ve been doing development work on the simulator for them. They develop new tire models and aero maps – just working on that foundation that the teams will start using this fall to develop their setups.
So, we’ve got a lot of tests scheduled for this year with the Ford wheelforce car. And the other manufacturers also have a program like that. But, throughout the summer months, we’ll be hitting some different race tracks, collecting some data for Goodyear and all the Ford teams.
Jones: If you will, I’m going to have you put on your analyst hat for the next few questions. We’ve heard about the financial benefits of the Next Gen car, but what other benefits do you see this car bringing to the sport in the coming years?
Ragan: I think it will allow some new teams to come into the sport and be more successful at a quicker rate. Prior to this new car, if you came into the sport, you had to design your own chassis and hang your own bodies. And, basically build your own suspension parts and pieces. That’s not feasible for most people. We saw how much money that Michael Waltrip Racing…Red Bull…Ginn Motorsports blew through and they’re not here today. That’s not a good business model.
I think NASCAR was 15 years, maybe 20, behind in developing a new car that would attract new owners, and I think this will help that. The initial cost will certainly be expensive for the current team owners that have all the old cars, and parts and pieces.
It will definitely even the playing field some. I think the racing will be similar – I don’t see it being much better, or even worse. I think the racing is really good right now. The on track performance will be simliar. The cost will be better for a new team.
And, they have allowed this car to be modified over the next couple of years for a new engine package. And ultimately, in my opinion, that’s the main reason to do this – to attract a new manufacturer.
If a new manufacturer does not come in the next five years, I think it was just a big waste of money. But if we can attract a new manufacturer, I think it will be worth it. And I do think we will.
Jones: Let’s hope that happens! I want talk about all the schedule changes for this season. NASCAR really shook things up with numerous road courses, new tracks like Nashville, and they threw some dirt on Bristol. First off, what are your thoughts when you first saw all the changes?
Ragan: It’s about time! (laughs) It’s awesome! We got stale with the current lineup. We knew that the mile-and-a-half race tracks provided low action and not a great experience for the fans. Or for the drivers!
Now, I think they were handcuffed with publicly-held companies and the agreements with the race tracks – it was hard to move dates around. With both ISC and Speedway Motorsports going private, they can move this stuff around easier.
(laughs) It’s five to ten years behind as well, so I’m glad they did it! New markets are awesome. New race tracks are awesome. And things change over time. What worked in the 1970s and 80’s doesn’t work today. And what works today is not going to work in another 10 or 15 years. So I’m glad they worked with the industry and made some good changes. I think it’s awesome. I love it!
Jones: And outside of the Bristol Dirt Race, we haven’t even really hit the ‘new’ portion of the schedule which kicks off at COTA in May. We’re 10 races in and have only had one repeat winner. Who do you anticipate seeing in victory lane at these new-to-the-schedule tracks? Will we see more first time winners or the regulars finding their groove in the coming weeks?
Ragan: I think you will definitely see a few new winners. I think the rules package and the parts freeze is not allowing the big teams to just get better and better. That has helped tighten that competition gap.
I don’t think we’re going to see 18 or 20 different winners, but I do think we’ll see 13-16 different winners this year. Which, that really isn’t a lot different than what we’ve seen in the past. I think we’ve averaged 13 winners the past five or six seasons, we’re just getting to that point at a little faster rate than normal.
You’ll see guys like Denny, Kevin, and Kyle Busch, they’re certainly going to win a race soon. And you’ll see Logano, Keselowski, and Truex continuing to win races.
It’ll look a lot like recent years, but it’s so much fun to see other guys in the top five and top 10. I think it’s a learning experience for all of us that we don’t have to change the rules every six months. And, the more we can keep things the same, the more even the playing field is and the more competitive things are.
So, I think it’s great from a fan perspective. The only people that don’t like it are Gibbs, Hendrick, and Penske who aren’t winning all the races! (laughs) I think everyone else likes it!
Jones: (laughs) True! It has been a fun start to the season!
This last one will be a bit more reflective. I’m sure you’re enjoying more abundant time with your family, but what is something you miss now that you aren’t racing full time?
Ragan: I definitely miss seeing the people. There’s a lot of friendships you make over the course of 15 years – on the race teams, in the garage. And even employees at the race track and NASCAR officials. So, I certainly miss seeing those guys and girls.
I miss strapping down in the seat of a race car. Standing on the gas and trying to make a fast lap time or telling my crew chief what I need to go better. Green flag pits where you have to hit your marks.
So, I do miss some of those particular parts, but I have no regrets at all. I’m so happy that I’m able to still be involved in the sport, that I still get to drive a little bit, and still think about motorsports. But I’m so happy I get to be at home and so engaged with my wife and family, and do normal things. It’s been awesome to have this experience.
I wouldn’t trade anything from those past 15 years, they were great. But the timing was right for me to stay home with a couple of young kids and do fun things with them. It’s been awesome!
Jones: Sounds like the best of both worlds!
Ragan: That’s right!
I want to extend a huge thank you to David for taking the time to catch up and shed a little light on what he has been up to since stepping away from the track. It was great to hear how he is putting his years of experience to use training up the next generation of young racers through the Ford Performance program.