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Ricky Rudd Did Whatever it Took on Path to NASCAR's Hall of Fame

He wasn't sure if the NASCAR Hall of Fame would ever call his name, but on Tuesday, Ricky Rudd was announced as one of the three members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2025.


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Tony Stark simply needed a metal suit to become Iron Man. For Ricky Rudd, it took a little more than that. He needed super fast race cars, driving skills that matched the speed of the cars, and balls of steel to pull it off. On Tuesday, one of the toughest drivers to ever strap into a race car finally secured his place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame as Rudd was named one of the three men that will make up the Class of 2025. Rudd will be enshrined with Carl Edwards and Ralph Moody.

When I say that Rudd was tough, there aren't words to describe just how tough the 5'8" daredevil truly was. Despite plenty of injuries over the years, Rudd completed every race in the NASCAR Cup Series for 25 consecutive seasons to secure his title as NASCAR's Iron Man. His 788 consecutive starts in the NASCAR Cup Series was an all-time record until Jeff Gordon surpassed the mark in 2015.

In Rudd's era, NASCAR safety standards weren't quite what they are today. There were no SAFER barriers, no HANS devices, and for a good chunk of his career, there were no restrictor plates at superspeedways. To get to 788 consecutive starts, Rudd had to do some things that other drivers simply wouldn't, like taping his swolen eyelids open in 1984 to compete in the Daytona 500.

Rudd's eyelids became swolen after he was involved in a wild crash in the Busch Clash 10 days before the Great American Race.

As Rudd's No. 15 car broke loose coming off of Turn 4 on Lap 16, the car went airborne. As the car began flipping wildly toward pit road, the window net on the car broke loose, and Rudd's head began bouncing into the framing in the door area, and his arms would poke out through the window numerous times in the five and a half flips.

Over the years, Rudd has said the decision to utilize medical tape to pin his eyelids open at Daytona in 1984 was, "One of those deals where you do what you have to do." Rudd made a career of doing what he had to do to keep plugging away.

While we all look back at it now and praise Rudd for his uncanny toughness, after being announced to the 2025 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class on Tuesday evening, Rudd says he was just doing what he felt was expected based on what his racing heroes did before him.

"Richard Petty, the Allisons, all of those guys, those are the guys that I looked at as being tough," Rudd explained. "I did some things that maybe some guys wouldn't do, getting back in the car when you're pretty injured, and maybe you should have sat out a race or two, but I didn't feel like I did anything different than the generation in front of me. I just tried to emulate them, and didn't know any different. I was taught, you get thrown off a horse, you get back on it quickly so it doesn't scare you when you get back on it."

But being tough isn't enough to get you into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, alone. You have to also win. And Rudd did that as well, 23 times throughout the course of his illustrious NASCAR Cup Series career.

Rudd's toughness, and his knack for finding victory lane intersected at Martinsville Speedway, the 27th race of the 1998 NASCAR Cup Series season. The native of Chesapeake, Virginia would conduct his victory lane interview that day while laying down in agonizing pain. Rudd had suffered second degree burns during the race due to intense temperatures inside of his No. 10 Tide Ford Thunderbird, and as he reached victory lane, he had to be helped out of the car.

As ESPN's Jerry Punch asked Rudd questions in the interview, the driver took breaths from an oxygen bottle between answers. The man was honestly tougher than a steak purchased at a Dollar Store, and he had been cooked beyond medium rare that day.

It's said that being burned is one of the most intense pain that a human can endure. For Rudd, the pain of not continuing his consecutive seasons with a win streak, which had reached 15 seasons heading into the 1998 campaign, far out-wieghed the pain of his flesh being burned inside the cockpit of his race car. Rudd hung in there, and after holding off Jeff Gordon, who was at his absolute peak in 1998, by just over a half second, Rudd extended his streak of winning at least one race to 16 consecutive seasons. That streak remains the third-longest in NASCAR Cup Series history.

While that 1998 win at Martinsville was a career-defining performance for Rudd, the driver, who originally had aspirations of being a competitor in the Indianapolis 500, regards his win in the 1997 Brickyard 400 as the biggest accomplishment of his racing career.

"Just to win at Indianapolis was a big thing for me," Rudd stated. "A goal, I was one of the first cars that tested at Indy, they called it a Goodyear Tire Test, and there was only a handful of guys invited. I was driving for Rick Hendrick, we were invited to that test. And at that point, we didn't know if we were coming back or not, to be able to come back and to win one of the early events there, and to sit on the pole in a different event. It always meant a lot to me because Indy was my dream as a young kid."

Toughness. A winning pedigree. And incredible longevity. Rudd had it all.

In all, Rudd competed in 906 NASCAR Cup Series races, which is second only to Richard Petty, who competed in 1,185 NCS events over his Hall of Fame career. But the interesting thing about Rudd's path is, unlike Petty and several others, he didn't drive for one team for the majority of his racing career.

Rudd bounced around the garage like a damned basketball.

He started his career off in Bill Champion's No. 10 machine, and moved to his father's No. 22 car, then to Junie Donlavey's No. 90 car, next he drove D.K. Ulrich's No. 40 entry, and it was on to Nelson Malloch's No. 7 car, then he received a call to drive DiGard Racing's No. 88, and it was onto Richard Childress Racing's iconic No. 3 machine, then he essentially swapped rides with Dale Earnhardt and took over Bud Moore's No. 15, then Rudd moved over to Kenny Bernstein's No. 26, and then to Rick Hendrick's No. 5, then he started his own team and drove the No. 10 car, after that stint he moved to Robert Yates Racing's No. 28, to the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, and then he finished his career off in the No. 88 Yates Racing entry.

In all, Rudd drove for 13 different organizations over his 32-year NASCAR Cup Series career, and incredibly he won for SIX of them.

It seemed like no matter where Rudd raced, he was relevant. And that fact, mixed with his gritty toughness, and impeccable longevity is why he ultimately landed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame despite never hoisting a NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy.

And now, with his induction in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which is set for Feburary 7, 2025, Rudd fills that his career is finally fulfilled.

"Everyone says, 'You didn't win a championship, do you still feel like your career was complete,' and I would say, 'No, I don't feel like it was complete,' but not for not winning the championship, but for not being in the Hall of Fame," Rudd remarked. "I feel like maybe I left stones unturned or something, I guess. I didn't produce good enough or whatever. Because a good period of time goes by, and you try not to get too excited about it. [NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting] day, I always know when it comes up, and I always made a point of if we're traveling, always try to make sure we're in town just in case I got a phone call."

The phone call -- or in this case anonymous text message -- finally came for Rudd on Tuesday. The legendary driver, who was cleaning the leaves around his pool area, stopped what he was doing, got showered, put on some fresh clothes, and bolted to uptown Charlotte.

And wouldn't you know it? Rudd has still got it. He was able to finish the 35-minute trek in 15 minutes.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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