ON NASCAR: Patience, Persistence Pay Off for Ragan, Kentucky Speedway

By Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott
Cathy Elliott

Cathy Elliott compares David Ragan’s road to a win with Kentucky Speedway’s wait for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series date and says Christmas has come to the Bluegrass State in a brown UPS car.


Almost every week now, I am newly struck by the fact that the NASCAR world is one of possibilities. For a prime example, look no further than David Ragan.


Born on what may well be the day of ultimate possibility – Christmas Eve – Ragan has spent the past four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series seasons, and half of the current one, lurking around the tree, good-naturedly (if a bit impatiently) watching the other kids ripping through their stuff. 


Before the dark days when we were introduced to the likes of “Jersey Shore,” “Mob Wives” and “Kardashians Sneeze!,” reality television was still in the process of exploring its own world of possibilities. For the most part, networks still took it seriously. 


NASCAR team owner Jack Roush had been hosting his own private, and very serious, reality show for several years. Known in racing circles as the “Gong Show,” the competition pit talented young drivers against one another for the opportunity to earn a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series ride with one of NASCAR’s most influential teams. Kurt Busch was one of the program’s early success stories. 


In 2005, as the popularity of both NASCAR and reality TV were sky-high, Discovery Channel decided to get in on the act. Roush’s private in-house competition would enter American living rooms, and could be watched by millions of fans curious to learn how NASCAR stars are selected. 


Called “Driver X,” the series culminated during three long August days at Darlington Raceway. The participant list included guys like Danny O’Quinn Jr., Justin Allgaier, Erik Darnell, and a gangly teenager from Georgia by the name of David Ragan. 


Even for Darlington, it was hot that year, so hot that track workers were reminded firsthand that asphalt has a liquid state and local legend has it two reporters actually melted on pit road. But as the thermometer went higher and tempers grew shorter, Ragan kept his cool. He was good-natured, funny and, most importantly, he was fast -- fast enough to race his way into the competition’s final four.  


Then, after what most people involved will tell you were three of the most grueling days of their lives, Ragan lost, beaten out by Darnell. 


Obviously, things worked out fine. Roush saw something he liked, and felt he could work with and develop, in the scrappy young man. Ragan competed in a number of Camping Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series events in 2006, and was named the full-time driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford in 2007. 


In one of the famous journals he kept while growing up, Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I will study and get ready, and perhaps my chance will come.” Ragan had his chance, but there was still plenty of work to be done. Granted, he wasn’t exactly chopping firewood behind a log cabin or hauling dry goods down the Mississippi in a flatboat like Honest Abe, but nevertheless, he continued to toil away while a roster of superstar teammates, which over the years included the likes of Jeff Burton, Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards, made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and won races. 


For this Christmas kid, it must have felt a little like finding a skateboard under the tree instead of the cool dirt bike you so desperately wanted; he had to work that much harder just to keep up. But true to the character of the holiday, although Christmas Eve seemed to last forever, the payoff came at last – Ragan got the gift of Victory Lane at NASCAR’s most famous speedway, winning the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 2


NASCAR Santa is never short of work, but he took time to answer another letter this year. After more than a decade of hosting successful Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series events, the sanctioning body has given Kentucky Speedway what it has long been asking for. In August 2010, it was announced that Kentucky Speedway would host its inaugural Sprint Cup Series race on July 9, 2011


Despite a few naysayers who questioned why NASCAR was handing out races to new places while more established venues were having them taken away, it proved to be a wildly popular gift. So popular, in fact, that despite the nation’s continuing economic woes, all 107,000 of the 1 1/2-mile tri-oval’s grandstands seats were sold out nearly a week in advance of the event. 


Making the most of your opportunities is important, but you can’t usually just go out and steal them; in order to take a chance, you must first be given one. In the end, it often proves to be not the chance itself, but the choice of whether or not to offer it, that makes the difference. 


How fortunate we are that NASCAR and its teams continue to show they are willing to go out on those longer limbs instead of resting on the safer ones, and to offer new opportunities even when other options might seem less risky. 


I think David Ragan and Kentucky Speedway – both enjoying Christmas in July this year -- would definitely agree. 


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