Newburgh native Ricky Craven spent 20 years as a NASCAR race driver and for the last 14 years has worked as an TV analyst, most recently for Fox.
Now, he is preparing to step away from racing when his contract with Fox expires in December.
“I’ve had a great run for 14 years,” said Craven, who turns 54 next month. “I worked at it the same way I worked at my driving career. I have had a second career [in NASCAR] that I didn’t know would exist [after racing].”
The 2020 NASCAR season is in limbo due to COVID-19, although they have tried to maintain interest in the sport by substituting televised virtual races featuring some top drivers.
NASCAR teamed up with virtual racing simulator iRacing to create the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, which allows drivers to compete against each other from the comfort and safety of their homes.
Craven landed a job as an ESPN analyst after a racing career during which he became just the 15th driver in history to win in all three of NASCAR’s major series. He accomplished that with a victory in a 2005 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race.
The North Carolina resident is in his second season at Fox.
“I never took it for granted. I never assumed I would get a second or third contract,” Craven said of his broadcasting career. “It has been remarkable. Most of what I got from it has been very, very satisfying.”
He said having the season hiatus caused by COVID-19 did play a role in his decision.
“I had six to eight weeks to pause with very few distractions. I probably had too much time to think,” Craven said.
In contemplating his future, he admits that for the first time he may be a bit of a liability.
“I’m not a guy who just stepped out of the car just two or three years ago,” Craven said. “There are certain things I can’t speak to or do as well as I did when I first came into this industry.”
Although he is confident that he will be a key on-air contributor once the NASCAR season resumes, he can see the handwriting on the wall.
“It has weighed on me for six months, maybe longer,” Craven said. “It is critical to me to feel like I am contributing and that I am an asset and not a liability.”
Rather than overstay his welcome and tread water, he is motivated to discover the next step in his professional life.
“I’m afraid of not being needed,” Craven said. “I am at my best when I am challenged, when I feel needed, when I am contributing and when I am part of a team.”
Craven, a 2013 inductee into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame, enjoyed a memorable racing career.
As a smalltown boy he idolized local racers, and then began his own career at local tracks. He reached the pinnacle of NASCAR and won two Cup races, the Old Dominion 500 in 2001 at Martinsville Speedway and the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 in 2003 at Darlington Raceway, where he edged Kurt Busch by two-thousands of a second.
Craven’s NASCAR career included 278 Cup series races, 142 in the Xfinity Series, 26 on the Trucks circuit and 49 on the K & N Pro Series East tour. He also competed in two K & N Pro Series West races.
He won in all five series.
Craven was the Rookie of the Year in the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and the K & N Pro East Series.
“The sport has been incredibly good to me and my family,” said the father of three, who hasn’t ruled out working in NASCAR in a different capacity.
He said there are fewer jobs in NASCAR than ever before and that his opportunity to reinvent himself probably lies outside of racing.
He continues to do a weekly show on Fox from his home in which he focuses on auto racing personalities.
“Whatever I pursue, it is going to be just one thing and I am going to do it at the highest level possible,” Craven said.