TALLADEGA, Alabama - There’s a distinctive pep in Rick Ware’s step. Actually, the lift in spirits is noticeable from driver to crew. From the team shop to the race track.
Just this season – with four races still remaining on the schedule - the Rick Ware Racing team has already doubled its career high in Top-10 finishes. Fulltime driver – and Rick’s son - Cody Ware scored a career high sixth place finish at Daytona in August in the No. 51 RWR Ford and part-time driver David Ragan earned a pair of Top-10s – eighth in the Daytona 500 and then ninth in the summer Daytona race – driving the team’s No. 15 Ford. That Daytona August race marked the first time in team history both RWR cars finished in the Top-10 on the same day. It’s not only a positive step for the team in the present but a legitimate good sign for the future as well.
“The haters will say that’s still not a whole lot (Top-10s) so it’s easier to double it when it’s not a whole lot,’’ team owner Ware said. “But if we can double that next year, then think about it. These are the icons of motorsports, you’re racing against - the Penskes and the Gibbs - and this is not easy. “It’s a blessing to even be in this garage first-off, to be able to compete and some days when they’re having bad days and we’re having good days, we’re racing with them. There’s going to be more of those next year, I believe. And I think because of how we built this year we now are at least a little bit more relevant, and I think we get a little more respect of the efforts anyway.”
To that point, Ware has made a concerted effort to raise the team’s game whenever – and wherever - possible. For them, a Top-20 or a Top-15 at certain tracks may be the kind of real progress that fuels belief in increased potential. “For sure we’ve had better finishes and have some races where we are competitive,’’ Ware said. “But ‘if we’re not going to win, we’re not going’ - that’s been the motto with everybody in motorsports.
Once you get to this level you have to be a little more realistic though, and understand it’s pretty hard to beat these guys. “And some of these teams go a year without a win, themselves. I think there’s a little bit more pep in the step for everybody though when we do have some Top-10s. “A 17th for us at Bristol (Cody Ware in September), in some ways, I’m just as proud of that as two Top-10s at Daytona. We all know at Daytona you can have some luck. You can get lucky at Bristol, but you can’t get lucky for 500 laps. You have to have a lot of things go your way. When we got out of there, that was like a win for us. That translates over.”
As encouraging as the results on track have been, Ware is also buoyed by the potential off the track – in the boardroom of sponsors and the front office of his diverse motorsport operation. In addition to his NASCAR team, Ware owns an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Racing entry, joined the NHRA drag racing community as an owner this summer and also is part-owner of an IndyCar team.
“We’ve had more offers right now for 2023 than we probably had the last two years combined,’’ Ware says of the NASCAR sponsorship situation. “That doesn’t mean they are the answers we want and it doesn’t mean it gets us to where we want to be, but the fact is, we’re in the conversation. We’re in the dialogue and they know that we’re there and that we are of value and that’s important. If you are a company that has to win races and that is the only you can market a product, there’s really only five teams you can talk to.
"Racing overall is extremely strong and it’s a good time to be in the racing business, and we’re trying to capitalize on all the hard work. It’s been 30 years, it’s not like it just happened. Some days I have my tongue out more than others!"
“Social media-wise, dollar-to-dollar we can compete head-to-head and I say we can compete dollar-to-dollar with what we do on social media and marketing our footprint. That at least puts us in a different category. “As far as race wins, we can be competitive especially in some other series."
The improvements have been duly noted both on and off-track – sponsors are reaching out to Ware and drivers are as well. Ware refuses to wear the “we’ve made it’ tag, but the truth is the 2022 season has been a watershed time for his NASCAR team. Expectations have been raised and the result is a confidence and optimism that not only feels good, but signals a legitimate turning point for the operation.
“Absolutely,’’ Ware says of 2022’s improvement. “And these are things that just help elevate the whole program. Normally we wouldn’t even be able to be in those conversations so now we’re in the conversations, having dialogue and making them happen.
We’ve had some really good success and are now having more conversations ahead of time, which means we can be even more prepared next year. Those things are the by-product of all the things we have done right.”