Wood Brothers hire Rudd to replace Sadler

Wednesday, August 21st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ The Ricky Rudd saga finally ended Tuesday when the veteran driver signed a three-year contract with the Wood Brothers to drive the No. 21 Ford, effectively swapping seats with Elliott Sadler.

Sadler, who asked to be released from his contract with the Wood Brothers at the end of this season, has been hired to drive next year for Robert Yates Racing in the ride Rudd is vacating when his contract expires in December.

``Elliott is where he wants to be, we got who we wanted and Robert got what he wanted,'' said Eddie Wood, who runs the pioneer racing team with his brother, Len.

``We have said from the beginning that until Ricky Rudd is in a seat, we were not going to sign anyone else. It was a dream and a hope to get him.''

The Wood Brothers beat out several other teams in signing Rudd, who has been shopping for the best deal for months.

Rudd, 45, said he had been in serious negotiations with Chip Ganassi Racing for over three weeks _ Texaco-Havoline, his current sponsor on Yates' No. 28, called then canceled a news conference last week _ but a deal was never reached.

Rudd took exception to how the Ganassi courtship had been portrayed, denying the two sides couldn't agree on money or that they had argued last week in Ganassi's office.

``Chip and I simply couldn't come to final terms and it was bleeding me dry,'' Rudd said. ``Contrary to what you may believe, it wasn't about money and I didn't give him a right-hook in his office. We just couldn't agree on the nuts and bolts of the things.''

Rudd said one of the things they couldn't agree on was time off, with Rudd objecting to an ``always on-call'' policy Ganassi has.

``I value my family time and I was going to lose more than I wanted,'' he said. ``That's just the priority I put on my time and it was one of the sticking points.''

Ganassi officials declined to comment, and there's still speculation that Texaco will join the operation as sponsor of a third team next season.

But for now, Rudd goes to the Wood Brothers, one of NASCAR's original teams.

Founded by brothers Glen and Leonard Wood, the organization is now run by Glen's sons, Eddie and Len Wood.

The Virginia-based family organization is the winningest team in Ford Racing history with 97 victories in over 50 years. They fielded the No. 21 for David Pearson for parts of eight seasons and the ``Silver Fox'' won 43 races for the team in the 1970s.

But as a single-car operation, they lacked the money and resources to successfully court Rudd, the most sought-after free agent this season.

Oh, they tried, sticking to their old-school way of doing things.

They got Sadler, who earlier this year forfeited his race winnings so the Woods would have more cash to pursue a top driver, to track down Rudd's phone number for them. Then they met with the driver inside a Taurus in an Indianapolis parking lot in July.

But with so many other teams after Rudd, they feared the meeting was for naught.

When the Ganassi deal appeared off, Eddie Wood said car sponsor Motorcraft called him and told him they would help do whatever it took to land Rudd _ including extending their sponsorship deal with the team another three years.

Ford also helped, with board member Edsel Ford phoning Rudd to persuade him to stay in a Taurus. Rudd has been with Ford since 1994 and Ganassi fields Dodges.

The two companies pooled up their money _ Rudd was believed to have been asking for a salary of at least $2 million a year _ and the Woods spent the past 24 hours in nonstop negotiations to get a deal done.

``We wanted to get it done before something happened to throw another scenario into it because this thing was headed my way,'' Eddie Wood said.

Rudd is NASCAR's Iron Man with a streak of 667-consecutive starts in a career that started in 1975. He has 23 career wins.

Like the Woods, he's a Virginia native who grew up watching Pearson race the No. 21, but never thought he'd get a chance to return the car to prominence. He's done that already in his career, helping Yates take the No. 28 back to the winners circle after several lean years.

``This was a dream of mine as a kid in Virginia just getting starting,'' he said. ``I watched David Pearson win just about every race they entered. I can't replace him and won't even try, but I'm real excited to get with this team.''