Monday, May 06, 2013

David Ragan Plays It Safe—all the way to Victory Lane at Talladega

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief
In a spectacular green-white-checkers finish, David Ragan drove his no. 34 Front Row Motorsports (FRM) Farm Rich Ford Fusion to a thrilling victory in the Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5.
Ragan, following a traditional victory burnout in front of thousands of cheering fans, pulled the no. 34—adorned with Associate Sponsor CSX’s “I BRAKE FOR TRAINS: Play It Safe Around Railroad Tracks” decal—into Victory Lane for the second time in his career, and for the first time for FRM.

FRM teammate David Gilliland, driving the no. 38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Fusion, pushed Ragan to the checkers in a dramatic last-lap surge to cap off a wild, rain-interrupted race on the 2.6-mile tri-oval. Ragan earned team owner Bob Jenkins his first Sprint Cup Series win and Gilliland finished second for the best—and most dramatic—finish in team history.

la-sp-newswire-20130506-001The ending came in the form of a green-white-checkers finish, in which Ragan and Gilliland restarted in 10th and 11th respectively, six rows back in a double-row restart following a huge wreck. In two laps, the pair, moving like a fast freight train, threaded their way through traffic to emerge at the front of the pack, seemingly out of nowhere and to the surprise and delight of the rain-soaked crowd.

Ragan’s victory almost didn’t get the chance to happen. The 500-mile race was red-flagged at Lap 126 because of rain, and many thought the race would be declared over. Ragan sat in 18th, Gilliland in 24th when racing was halted, and the drivers thought their day was done. But NASCAR saw clearing skies and the chance to finish the race under green. After a three-hour, 36-minute red-flag period, the track was dry and NASCAR called for drivers to return to their cars. The race saw one more lengthy delay after the multi-car accident (a “Big One,” in NASCAR parlance) on Lap 184 (of 188), which led to the green-white-checkers finish. As dusk fell over the track and a light rain began falling once again, the field went green for two more laps of hard racing.

The win was the second Sprint Cup victory for Ragan (he previously won at Daytona in July 2011), and the runner-up finish tied Gilliland’s best career result. “This is a true David vs. Goliath moment here,” Ragan said. “This is special to get Front Row Motorsports our first win. A top-10 would have been amazing. So, it feels like I’ve never been in Victory Lane before, I’m so excited. We’re a small team. We know we’re an underdog. We build our own chassis, our own bodies, and it’s such a special moment for our team and all of our partners. This is big, this is special. And I thank the Lord, for without him nothing is possible.”

rpm g dragants2 400For Bob Jenkins, whose passion for racing led him to purchase a small NASCAR team in 2004, the Victory Lane champagne was long, and patiently, awaited. “I’ve got guys at the shop that have the heart to win races,” Jenkins said. “We just haven’t always had the resources. So the challenge for me is, as we build cars, to make them better every week and to put ourselves in a position to win a race and that’s really what happened. It’s just so satisfying to see that over the past nine years, we’ve gotten a little bit better every single year, and I felt the progress and I knew it was just a matter of time before we’d win one of these things.”

CSX Director of Communications Gary Sease, along with many of his fellow railroaders, are thrilled with Ragan’s victory. “I can’t begin to describe how happy we are to support a winning car, and we’re particularly pleased to see David in the national media, with our “Play It Safe” message displayed on his driving suit,” Sease told Railway Age.

Interview 2 Lo-ResLas Vegas oddsmakers had given Ragan a 100-to-1 shot at winning at Talladega. That’s similar to the chances for survival that many had given the Northeast’s bankrupt railroads—many of which are part of today’s healthy, vibrant CSX—prior to the formation of Conrail in 1976 and passage of the Staggers Act in 1980.

To view a video clip of David Ragan’s come-from-behind victory in the final laps at Talladega, CLICK THIS LINK.

To view a video of Ragan’s visit to CSX with the no. 34 “Play It Safe” car prior to the April 27 Richmond Sprint Cup race, CLICK HERE.