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Reggie Ruggiero still answers to “Reg,” or sometimes “The Reg” in a nod to his days as a standout on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Even though the nickname is still his calling card, its origins don’t stem from a conventional shortening of Reginald.
“Actually, my real name is John. Nobody knows me by that, but that’s my real name,” Ruggiero says. “When I was young, we’re an Italian family and we grew up in two- or three-family homes and there were four Johns. Little kids, my cousins, and everybody got a nickname. They just took my last name and shortened it. Well it was ‘Ruggie,’ and then when I started racing, everybody called me ‘Reggie’ and that’s stuck. That’s how I ended up with that name. I mean, nobody knows me by John.”
Around Stewart-Haas Racing, his name still carries plenty of clout. After a successful driving career that spanned from 1968 to 2012, Ruggiero, 66, has found a home in the SHR chassis shop, putting his years of car-building experience to great use.
“I’ve been in racing since I was 16, so this is a good way to stay in it,” Ruggiero says. “I mean, you meet a lot of different people every day. I have people coming into our chassis shop that I don’t know but they know me. It’s pretty interesting.”
His legendary career, which began on a small quarter-mile at Plainville (Conn.) Stadium, has kept Ruggiero’s name a familiar one on the SHR shop floor. Ruggiero was a force in the Northeast Modified ranks, with feature wins by the dozens and championships at hallowed tracks such as Riverside Park near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border.
After the Whelen Modified Tour was formed in 1985, Ruggiero stacked up 44 wins and was a perennial contender in the championship hunt. Despite his success, he finished as a tough-luck runner-up seven times in the national standings.
“It was pretty hard to swallow, but it’s the way it was,” Ruggiero says. “I always raced to win, not to run for points. Sometimes that gets you in trouble, and things like that happen, but all in all for my career, had a ton of fun with a bunch of people.”
The fun has continued with Stewart-Haas, where Ruggiero has spent the last year and a half focusing on interior sheet metal and other chassis prep. He’s added a Daytona 500 ring from Kurt Busch’s win last year to his list of memories and keepsakes in racing, and he’s hoping for more this season.
Having several other SHR team members hail from the Northeast has helped Ruggiero settle in, but so has working alongside like-minded crew with rich backrounds in racing.
“Everybody knows Reg,” says team co-owner Tony Stewart. “To know his history and know how many races he’s won, he was the guy that, he was a clean racer. There were guys that I met toward the end of Reg’s career is when I really met him, but the guys that I was around that knew him really appreciated him for his style of racing and how good he was.
“And now we get somebody who it just still amazes me that we have somebody the caliber of Reggie Ruggiero here that’s in our chassis shop, helping build our race cars. That’s something that I think is really cool. It really sums up what SHR is really about — it’s about racers that want to go out and win races and win championships.”