Iracingone On One:/I Elliott Sadler

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(A native of Emporia, Va., Elliott Sadler is in his third season as a NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver, piloting the No. 21 Motorcraft Taurus for Wood Brothers Racing. Sadler finished second in the rookie-of-the-year chase to Tony Stewart in 1999, following a short but stellar career in the NASCAR Busch Series. In two-plus seasons in the Busch Series, Sadler had five poles and five victories. His brother, Hermie, has raced in the Busch Series since 1992.)

RacingOne: You have two years in Winston Cup now. How would you rate yourself as a driver?

Sadler: I rate myself in a lot of different ways. Two years in Winston Cup racing, and it's been pretty hard. We’ve struggled some, but I’ve learned a lot as a driver as far as knowledge on and away from the track in things that happen around Winston Cup racing. I’m a pretty level-headed driver, pretty safe. I never get myself in any bad situations. I probably should be a little more aggressive in some areas of the race and that’s something I’m working on. But I feel pretty comfortable in my third year. It definitely gets easier as far as comfort each and every season. I’m looking forward to the rest of this year.

RacingOne: Was two full years of Busch Series competition enough for you, or do you think you could have withstood another year of seasoning there?

Sadler: I don’t know. The biggest reason I moved up was because of the Wood Brothers team. I knew they would be here for a long time and they don’t really have revolving doors. And the opportunity came, so I went. I probably could have stood another year in the Busch Series because of my age, but I didn’t want to learn how to be a Busch Series driver, either. I wanted to learn to be a Winston Cup driver because it’s a whole different ballgame. The cars are a lot heavier with a lot more motor. It might have been a little early as far as drafting knowledge, but everywhere else I think I made the right move.

RacingOne: Diamond Ridge’s Winston Cup program was going nowhere in 1998, and even its Busch program folded up not long after. Did you just see the writing on the wall?

Sadler: No, I didn’t. If Diamond Ridge had had a sponsor for me I would have stayed with Phillips 66. I really enjoyed running over at Diamond Ridge. They had a bunch of good guys. The thing that really made Diamond Ridge go the wrong direction was when they shut down Jeff Green’s Busch operation. That put a damper on the team spirit and the whole organization. We just didn’t really know why we were there. We had a good strong two-car effort to run for the championship. And then when they quit running Jeff at the end of the year it really dampened everybody’s spirits. And that’s when everything went astray. But I had a lot of fun over there. I really loved driving for Gary Bechtel and Sandy Jones and I wish them all the luck in the world.

RacingOne: Is there any pressure at all as a driver at Wood Brothers Racing, considering its past history of winning?

Sadler: Yes, it’s a little bit of pressure running the Wood Brothers car. They have a lot of history and a lot of fans that just follow the 21 car no matter who is driving it. When I first came in as a rookie, that’s all I heard about, all the pressures about driving their car. But just from the fans, never really from Eddie and Len or Glen or Leonard Wood or anybody within the Wood Brothers organization. They knew who I was and that we were in it for the long haul. They kind of let me develop in my own pace, so it’s worked out for everybody.

RacingOne: You had a pretty decent rookie season, it’s just that you were up against Tony Stewart for the Rookie of the Year Award. Do you feel that you might have won the award in most any other year?

Sadler: I probably would have had a chance to win any other season, but Tony Stewart had a great year. He had a great teammate with Bobby Labonte to share things off of. And Joe Gibbs has great race teams. He had a remarkable year. I don’t think you’ll ever see another rookie have that kind of a year again, not that much up in the points and the wins. For normal rookies, or rookies in the past, we were right in the middle of it probably in any other season except that one. We knew we needed to run a little better that particular year and we didn’t win it, but we have no regrets about it. We learned a lot about each other and we moved on.

RacingOne: Hermie is a little more than six years older than you are. Was it a struggle, as the little brother, just to hang around him and get his attention when you were younger?

Sadler: No, I don’t look at it being a struggle being six years younger than he is. I really enjoyed going to the track helping him. I was just going from track to track learning what I could about the cars and trying to support him as much as I could because in return he always supported me. But I learned a lot as a person and as a crewman about how to make these things work going on the road with Hermie. I never really worried about getting the attention to myself. I just always wanted to make sure he ran well. That was my job on the team and I really enjoyed it.

RacingOne: Along those same lines, how much of help was he to you in getting your racing career started?

Sadler: He was the most help I’ve ever had in racing. I remember when I ran my very first Busch race in 1985, it was his car and his motor, his whole pit crew and his money that gave me the start. We didn’t have a sponsor. He took money out of his own pocket to give me a start at South Boston that year and kind of put me on the map. So anything I’ve ever gotten is due to him, and I try to repay him as much as I can. He has always been a great brother and there is no animosity between the two of us. We’ve always wanted to do whatever we could to help each other, and that’s the way we’ll always be.

RacingOne: You attended James Madison University. What was your major, and do you ever have any intentions of going back to get your degree?

Sadler: I went to James Madison for a year and a half. I was majoring in business. I actually went there to join the basketball team and try to play for Lefty Driesell. That’s what I wanted to do, but I injured my knee so bad that I was not able to do anything I wanted to do on the basketball court. I was trying to go to college during the week and race on the weekends. And then I got where I was skipping so much school to work on the race cars that going to college was not a priority of mine any more. It should have been, but I was just not mature enough to know what my priorities should have been at the time. I’ve thought about going back. Maybe go to speaking classes or to take something to help with public relations, but now Winston Cup racing takes so much of your time that you have to be here, there and everywhere, so it can’t be a priority right now.

RacingOne: You’ll be 26 in April and still an eligible bachelor. Any pressures from the family to get married?

Sadler: No, I haven’t gotten any pressure yet about getting married. Like you said, I’m only going to be 26 in April and that’s pretty young. I would love to have a couple of kids, though, and I’ve already found the person that I’m going to marry. I’m just waiting on the right time. I’m trying to get a house built and other things. I’ve just always been a person who wants to do things the right way, so I want to make sure my career is stable and all my bills are paid before I take on a wife and kids. That is down the road, but it’s close. It’s probably closer than everybody else thinks.

RacingOne: Wrestling has gotten so big through the past few years, and you and Hermie are huge fans. You must be loving all the play it’s getting.

Sadler: Yes, we’re definitely huge wrestling fans. I have been since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I used to watch MWA Wrestling, that’s Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, all around the East Coast. I used to go to all the matches in Virginia and North Carolina, whenever they were near. I went to the very first Starcade in Atlanta in 1984, so I remember that very well. I’m a big WWF fan. I like watching all the skits and the roles those guys have to play and I’ve gotten a chance to meet all of them. It’s pretty neat to know the true person that they really are and then the roles that they have to play on TV. I watch it every Monday and Thursday night. Whenever there is a pay-per-view, we try to leave the track as early as we can so we can get home to watch the pay-per-view that Sunday night.

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