NASCAR's May 5, 2013 Talladega winner was WNY visitor in 2007
By John D'Onofrio Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
What could Sunday’s Talladega winner David Ragan possibly have to do with Lockport and Western New York?
One of NASCAR’s longest days produced one of its unlikeliest winners in Ragan, 27, a journeyman from Unadilla, Ga., who has toiled in Sprint Cup Series obscurity for seven seasons. Ragan burst into victory lane Sunday by snookering Carl Edwards with a last-lap pass to win the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
“This is a true David versus Goliath moment here,” said Ragan, whose No. 34 Ford earned the first victory for Front Row Motorsports, one of the most underfunded teams in NASCAR’s premier series.
It was Ragan’s second career Sprint Cup win, and both came at restrictor-plate tracks. Ragan also won the July 2011 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Six years ago, almost to the day, the then 21-year-old NASCAR rookie driver Ragan was a visitor to Williamsville to help promote AAA of Western and Central New York’s “Driver Safety Program.” About 100 local driver education students, AAA representatives and media members were on hand for one-on-one interviews and photo opportunities.
Among those were Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Sports Editor John D’Onofrio, along with US&J weekly racing columnist Tom “Fuji” Fawber of Lockport. At the time, Ragan was driving the No. 6 Roush-owned Ford.
“David seemed like a pretty down to earth guy and we had quite a conversation,” Fawber said in his column that week. “I think David and his team are headed in the right direction. He might be young, but he takes a lot of time outside of racing to help teach young kids to drive safe. It was nice to see David take the time to give back, especially to the kids — and there’s always a kid in me. It was a pleasure meeting him.”
Here’s a segment from the official transcript of Fawber’s June 5, 2007 interview with Ragan.
Fawber: “Welcome to Western New York. Seen the Falls?”
Ragan: “No, it’s my first time here, actually. I’ve been to Lake Erie once and raced there about four years ago.”
Q: “What’s your favorite track?”
A: “As a rookie I’ve been to about half the race tracks. I like to tell everybody, ‘My favorite track is next week’s (laughs).’ I don’t really have a favorite track right now. I really like Atlanta and I really like Charlotte — just because they’re hometown tracks. I like the tracks that are fast and have a lot of banking in them. I guess you’ll have to get back to me — maybe in another year or so — on that one. “
Q: “How do you feel about the direction your team is going? You’ve had a few ups and downs, you’ve had a couple of nice finishes — other times, you’ve got caught up in things.”
A: “Yeah. I think we’ve had an average or maybe a little-better-than-average season. Certainly there’s a few runs we’re very proud of — a lot of top-15s, a top-five at Daytona in the opening race of the year ... “
Q: “Most definitely. That was a great run.”
A: “Yeah, so we’ve had some real strong runs, but then, like at Las Vegas, we really struggled. And at a couple of other tracks, we struggled for speed. But for the most part, we’ve had fast race cars. It’s just a matter of learning how to keep those race cars up front and out of trouble over the long course of the day. We know what areas we need to work on to be better and we’re comfortable in the top 30 in points. We’re out-running a lot of good cars every weekend. We just need to be a little bit better.”
Q: “How do you feel like you’re faring in the Rookies chase and wouldn’t it be a feather in the cap to win rookie of the year over someone who’s in the news all the time like Montoya?”
A: “Oh yeah, that would be big time to win rookie of the year this year. When you think of Juan Montoya, you don’t think of him as a rookie. You think of him as an Indianapolis 500 winner, car champion and winner of however many Formula I races. He’s got quite a lot of experience for a rookie. But it’s cool having someone like that to race with. I think we’re only five points out of the rookie of the year lead now. I feel that if we do the things that we’re supposed to do, that rookie of the year is certainly within our grasp.”
Q: “Who are some of the other drivers you’re closer to on the track and some of the drivers you try to stay away from?”
A: “I like to race around my teammates. They’re fun to race with. Certainly when you race with guys like Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle — guys like that will race you hard, but they’ll race you clean. And you know you’re going fast if you’re racing with those guys. I’ve learned over the year that Montoya has been a real good driver to race with. We’ve had some good runs together and good battles at the end of races. There isn’t one person I don’t dislike racing against, but I’m sure as the year goes on I’ll probably change my mind about that (laughs). But for now, everyone’s been pretty good.”