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The Driver Who Looked Like a Kid Raced His Way into the Hall of Fame

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I know there is little chance of total acceptance of every candidate inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and I reckon the class for 2024 is no exception.

But for me personally, to see Ricky Rudd be part of the induction ceremony in January is a good thing.

Other than his worthy credentials, there are a couple of reasons Rudd’s pending induction is personally satisfying.

First, he’s a fellow Virginian who is practically a neighbor. He’s from Chesapeake and I hail from Virginia Beach, both just a few miles apart in the Tidewater area.

Second, I’ve known Rudd for all of his NASCAR career – not just most of it. He started racing Bill Champion’s No. 10 Fords in 1975, debuting at the spring Rockingham Speedway race. I was there.

He finished 11th in that race and it was the first time he raised eyebrows. That he was an unknown out of nowhere and outlasted many veterans of the day was enough to attract attention, but as for Rudd, there was another reason.

He was decidedly not the image of the rough-and-tumble stock car driver. True, he was 18 years old but looked far more like an 11-year-old fifth grader.

He was slight of stature and had a headful of curly hair – and a baby face. I mean a baby face. And when he smiled, which was often, he looked even younger.

When I saw Rudd on that race day in Rockingham, I admit I was amused at his youthful appearance.

“Look at that guy,” I said to a bemused colleague. “I mean, I’ve heard of young competitors, but I didn’t think NASCAR let any one of them drive before 16 years of age.”

“Looks like NASCAR’s new rule says if you’re potty trained, you can race!” he replied.

We should have realized there was another, more rugged and daring side to Rudd. Perhaps he first displayed it when, as a kid, he and his friends visited home construction sites wearing towels around their necks – their homage to Superman.

They climbed atop finished or unfinished roofs and then jumped into sand piles. By the way, not all of them were close by.

Also, as a youngster, Rudd was an avid Go-Kart driver who raced in heavy competition for years. He did turns in motocross. Nothing timid about that.

Rudd raced in NASCAR with his family team and team owner Junie Donlavey (a fellow Virginian) for a few desperate years before finding stability with DiGard Racing Co. as Darrell Waltrip’s replacement in 1981.

But, as it was for several of its drivers, existence…

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