[media-credit id=40 align=”alignright” width=”239″][/media-credit]When the checkered flag dropped at Homestead officially closing the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the season of change for David Ragan began on, as well as off, the track.
The biggest change for Ragan was learning that his sponsor was leaving, jeopardizing his continuing relationship with Roush Fenway Racing.
And although Ragan was mentioned as the prime candidate for several open seats during ‘silly season’, his future in the sport was not secured until this week when it was announced he would pilot the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports.
“My heart was at Roush Fenway Racing all year, hoping to continue,” Ragan said. “But we just couldn’t make that happen.”
“When we got back from Homestead, a lot of the guys were taking other opportunities and they laid off some employees,” Ragan continued. “So, I could see the writing on the wall that it just wasn’t going to happen.”
“The Front Row guys have always had a relationship with the Ford Racing team so with me being in the Ford camp, I knew some of them,” Ragan said. “I understood their goals and as a young team, I could see a lot of potential.”
“I had a few other opportunities on the table but those opportunities did not materialize,” Ragan continued. “So, I just stayed in touch with them.”
“In order to stay in the Sprint Cup Series and in order to stay in a Ford, it was important to sign with them for the year.”
While Ragan’s world changed dramatically, the young Cup driver acknowledged that the world, including the NASCAR community, has also dramatically changed. This is particularly true as it applies to NASCAR corporate sponsorship.
“In this day and age in the NASCAR world, you have to have some connections in the corporate community to help bring some revenue to the team,” Ragan said. “I worked as much on that side of the coin as with the teams and owners.”
“I’ve brought a lot of contacts to the team that I’ve made in the sport,” Ragan continued. “It’s something that collectively we’re going to work on.”
Ragan also anticipates another change, that of moving from one of the sport’s bigger teams to a smaller team primarily funded by the team owner. Yet he acknowledges that moving from a large to a more intimate team also has its advantages.
“Front Row has primarily been funded from the car owner, Bob Jenkin’s, side to keep it going,” Ragan said. “So, that’s going to be a big change.”
“But you’ve got a group of guys working together to run the two cars and that’s going to be better because you feel more of a personal relationship with the team,” Ragan continued. “I think there’s a lot of room to grow the Front Row team.”
“The landscape is certainly changing and the gaps between the haves and the have nots is closing up a little tighter each day.”
Another major change on the track for Ragan will be dealing with the new fuel injection in the race cars. Although he did not participate in the recent Daytona testing, Ragan feels confident that he will be able to easily cope with these changes.
“From a driver’s standpoint, there’s really not much difference,” Ragan said. “The cars drive and respond in pretty much the same way.”
“I’ve driven quite a bit of the fuel injection stuff over the past year doing testing for the Roush Yates engine department,” Ragan continued. “That’s something that will help the Front Row Motorsports team and we will utilize our Ford partnership.”
Ragan is also focused on coping with another major change on the track, that of getting to know a whole new team, owner and crew chief. And he also is in the getting acquainted stage with new teammate David Gilliland.
“I’m spending as much time as possible at the race shop, meeting the guys and learning their system,” Ragan said. “We’re starting to talk schedule and traveling and then we’ll get down to business, with set ups and cars.”
“My teammate David Gilliland ran third in the Daytona 500 and me winning the race in July, I feel like we should have a good pairing for the race,” Ragan continued. “David is a good speedway racer so it should be fun to plan out our strategy.”
“I think things are going well and it will help us that we’re in the Bud Shoot Out,” Ragan said. “That will help break the ice for the Daytona 500.”
Ragan is, however, expecting one major change, particularly at Daytona. He is predicting that tandem racing for the entire race may be a thing of the past and the pack may indeed be back.
“I expect a combination of both tandem and pack racing,” Ragan said. “The engine has been restricted so much that you just can’t have the tandem racing all race long.”
“I think you’ll see spurts of it all race long but the meat of it will most likely be pack racing with guys conserving cars to be there at the end.”
With the many changes on the track for David Ragan, he added one more change to his repertoire. This change, however, applied more to his off track activities than his racing career.
Ragan proposed to his long-time girlfriend Jacquelyn Ann Butler. They are planning for their wedding in December of this year.
“I wasn’t quite brave enough to ask her at a sporting event on the jumbotron before 50,000 people,” Ragan said. “Her and I went off for a little weekend and I was fairly traditional.”
“I got down on one knee and the good news is that she said yes,” Ragan continued. “I wasn’t going to get up until she did say yes. That was good and I was glad to have her not expecting it.”
One thing that has not changed in Ragan’s life is his devotion to his work as a Shriner. The other is his love for racing super late models.
“I’m still doing a lot of work with Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, getting our dates planned out for the Shrine Bowl at Carolina Speedway,” Ragan said. “And I’m going to race my super late model car a few times in January and run the first CRA race of the season in Georgia at Speedfest.”
“So, I’m looking forward to getting back on the track with that and then Daytona will be here before you know it.”
So, what has Ragan learned through the many changes in his life on and off the track?
“It makes you appreciate your program and your job when you have a full-time sponsor when you know your plans going into the off season and during the holidays,” Ragan said. “But this sport is so tough and there’s a lot of great drivers and teams and things are changing. The world we live in is changing and the sport is too.”
“We just look forward to a great opportunity at Front Row,” Ragan continued. “They have a great deal of potential and we look forward to taking the team to the next level.”