The Frontstretch: Richard Petty Should Step Away From NASCAR and Protect his Legacy by Doug Turnbull -- Sunday April 18, 2010

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Richard Petty Should Step Away From NASCAR and Protect his Legacy

The Cool Down Lap · Doug Turnbull · Sunday April 18, 2010

 

Richard Petty is the most accomplished NASCAR driver of all-time and one of the most decorated, celebrated legends in all of motorsports history. His 200 career Cup victories and 27 wins in 1967 will never be matched and his seven championships have only been equaled by Dale Earnhardt. Petty’s squeaky clean, fan friendly, Christian persona is so rich in each of these qualities that the second-generation, Southern born and bred driver and owner seems cut from an American folk story. These real qualities still burn bright in the memories of many of The NASCAR Faithful and help to deflect the last two-plus decades of Petty Family disappointment. And in the interest of not diluting these grand images, now is the time that Richard Petty needs to step away from NASCAR.

Richard Petty used to represent all the best of NASCAR, now the shop that bears his name is tarnishing those memories.

While Petty languished no better than mid-pack most of the last decade of his driving career in the 80’s, and then stepped atop the pit box only to watch his famed No. 43 and its stable mates do no better for the last 18 years, Petty’s image has been hurt the most by developments in the last three seasons. After sponsor Cheerios announced its pending defection from the No. 43 Dodge and driver Bobby Labonte in February 2008, Petty, team executive Robbie Loomis and others at Petty Enterprises knew that cash flow was going to morph from a serious problem to a near terminal catastrophe. Fresh off of a controversial move from the team’s original race shop on the Petty property in Randleman, North Carolina to the old Yates Racing shop in Mooresville, Petty Enterprises was in serious need of cash flow. Along came Boston Ventures to solve that problem.

In June 2008, much to the chagrin of son Kyle, Richard Petty signed the controlling interest of Petty Enterprises over to Boston Ventures, a portfolio company that was supposed to infuse both money and marketing know-how into the Petty’s sinking ship. While the idea looked sound on paper, the idea that NASCAR’s most iconic team—an organization alive since NASCAR’s inception—would no longer have the Petty family name as its primary holder seemed wrong. The relationship, however, would be short-lived, as the economic climate took a turn for the worse.

The sinking economy, particularly the failure of the American automobile industry, prompted many teams, including the revamped Petty Enterprises, to discuss mergers and contraction. A rumored partnership between Petty Enterprises and the Toyota teams of Michael Waltrip Racing and Bill Davis Racing never materialized late in the 2008 season. But fellow Dodge team Gillett Evernham Motorsports, suffering from similar cash flow problems, came calling just over one month before the 2009 Daytona 500 with an offer too good for the Petty brass to refuse.

GEM and PE would merge to keep the sponsor-less No. 43 car afloat and the team would operate from the GEM shop. Existing GEM sponsors and funding would be spread thin to fund the No. 43 and GEM’s superior marketing efforts and financial resources would ensure the team’s survival in future years. The cost, of course, would be that almost all ownership of the company would fall into owner George Gillett and his financial team’s hands, further diminishing any remnants of Petty Enterprises. The new organization, though, would brand itself with The King’s name, morphing into Richard Petty Motorsports. GEM’s existing full stable of drivers meant that 2000 Cup champion Bobby Labonte would lose his seat in the No. 43 for 2009, in favor of fourth-year driver Reed Sorenson.

The merger also meant Kyle Petty, who had been looking to diminish his seat time with the team, would completely lose his ride at once with his family’s race team. A.J. Allmendinger drove the rebranded No. 44 (formerly the GEM No. 10 team), debuting it in the 2009 Daytona 500 with a retro-Valvoline paint scheme from Kyle’s ARCA debut 30 years earlier, drawing great ire from the suddenly retired driver.

2009 brought mixed results for RPM. Kasey Kahne, sporting Budweiser colors (a longtime Petty family no-no) on the No. 9, won twice and qualified for the Chase, but was hung out to dry in the year’s final 10 races. A.J. Allmendinger parlayed what was supposed to be an eight-race deal with the team into a full schedule, on the strength of several promising runs. But Elliott Sadler in the No. 19 and Reed Sorenson in the No. 43 struggled, as funding for the organization was drying up faster than an ice cube on a Nevada blacktop.

By mid-season, Sorenson had been asked to either forego his salary and drive for free or see the No. 43 team shut down, an imperative that Petty himself likely would never have hung over one of his drivers. The end of 2009 saw RPM merge with Yates Racing and add No. 98 Paul Menard and his sponsor’s team, squeezing Sorenson from the No. 43 ride in favor of Allmendinger. The No. 44 team was shut down (or at least the unnecessary members of it were let go) and RPM’s engine shop suddenly became unnecessary, as RPM now had become a Ford team and would use Roush Yates engines. Dozens lost their jobs.

Petty tradition, which once bucked the trend of bigger race teams, gave way to the Almighty Dollar. Firm agreements with established drivers are eroding to the wayside in favor of murky, unfavorable partnerships to simply survive. Take the merger with Gillett. Richard Petty chose to align his company with an owner who is now reportedly in default of payment on a $90 million loan. The headlines do not say, “George Gillett is in default…” They always read “Richard Petty Motorsports is in default…”

The shell of Petty’s team is also now in bed with an owner and organization who have shown extreme disloyalty in the past. GEM fired Scott Riggs from the No. 10 car in late 2007 in favor of Patrick Carpentier who satiated their need for a trendy open wheel driver convert. However, they only did the same to Carpentier after a bad qualifying lap at Talladega in fall 2008. In that same time period, GEM exercised its option in Elliott Sadler’s contract to prevent him from jumping ship to the open fourth team spot at Richard Childress Racing. They then asked Sadler to take a pay cut at the end of the season and then, without telling Sadler, announced A.J. Allmendinger as the driver of the No. 19 Dodge! Sadler sued to keep his ride, won, and somehow remains with the team, though his lackluster results have to spell his firing (again) sometime soon. GEM also skewered Robby Gordon Motorsports, after announcing an alliance with that team in 2008, only to give the No. 7 team an illegal nose (which initially brought Gordon a heavy penalty), never lent the No. 7 enough support to improve its results, and then tried to exercise a right to ownership of Gordon’s team.

Now, RPM is in crisis mode again. Two mergers in two years failed to boost the team’s performance enough to keep star driver Kasey Kahne, whom you may have heard is bailing after this season. Kahne’s Bud sponsorship is easily the most lucrative backer at RPM and likely is in danger of leaving, whether with Kahne or not. With debtors lurking in the shadows and threatening to seize the race team’s (not Gillett’s) assets , the future of Richard Petty Motorsports is seriously in doubt.

Petty, though, has shown no signs of pulling back from the sport. Not only is he still at the track often with his teams, but he and former Petty driver John Andretti are teaming with an Indy team to field a Petty ride in the Indy 500 – another gimmick that pastes the Petty name on a likely mediocre ride. Petty has over-played his ownership status much as he did with his driving career. With his wife, Lynda, battling cancer, Petty needs to shed this growing distraction on the ownership front and enjoy some downtime in both his and his wife’s golden years.

Richard Petty is a man who has made a reputation, first off his performance and now his name. Unfortunately, the Petty name is now attached to a sinking and sometimes corrupt ship. While the media and fans alike first praised Petty for keeping his name on the revamped RPM, the move obviously now has proven to be a mistake. The Wood Brothers have found a way to survive the changing NASCAR landscape and keep the famed No. 21 alive, but that does not mean that Petty should do the same. With his legacy firmly cemented both in our minds and in the soon-to-open NASCAR Hall of Fame, now is the time for Richard Petty to jump into the kayak and paddle off into the sunset, before that ship takes his legend down with it.

Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory this Saturday, from 12-2 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts podcasts on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.
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Noel_Snow
04/19/2010 07:06 AM
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Kyle Petty did all that? I thought he just raced in the back of the pack for the past 10 years!?!?

mrclause
04/19/2010 07:53 AM
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Richard needs to run, not walk away from anything Gillette. It would be a sad ending to the name Petty and the man, to forever more be linked to the Gillettes and their garbage.

DansMom
04/19/2010 08:06 AM
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The Waltrips need to do the same. Or is it already too late there?

With Darrell making a fool out of himself weekly on TV his prestige has evaporated. And, according to the FS newsletter, Michael got caught cheating AGAIN.

Kyle stayed in the car WAY too long. Michael stayed in the car WAY too long.

But, old school drivers, like old school fans – HATE change. Just put it down and walk away, let us rembmer you for who you were.

VABlueGrass
04/19/2010 08:45 AM
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Now that current drivers are dipping into the driver/owner money pool the future success of past drivers turned owners will be brighter.

Currently, only those guys who focus on OWNING are successful in the cup series. Hendrick, Gibbs, Roush. Conversly, only those drivers who have focused on JUST DRIVING have won championships.

But, 20 years from now we could see the owners corp of NASCAR include Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jr.

Jerry
04/19/2010 09:27 AM
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I keep reading about the people who just seem to hate DW but those same people still turn on the tv every week to listenn to him.
For years I have had my tv on mute and got MRN on the radio. It took alittle getting use to but it can be done.
I don’t go around saying I hate hearing DW on tv because I can;t hear him. You goota use the little 3 pound thing called a brain.
And I do remember Richard Pettys last 8 years where he drove around with a wet rag in his nouth making a fool outta himself. No wins at all. And poor Adam Petty, he killed his vrew chief then got himself killed. Karma can suck.

Mike
04/19/2010 10:31 AM
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Never liked Petty. His 200 wins are bogus. He ran little bullrings against nobodies for years. His legacy? How about cheating? Over sized engines. Illegal tires. And lets not forget his factory backing when there was to be no factory backing

DoninAjax
04/19/2010 11:22 AM
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Mike

Do the words Jimmie Johnson sound like that too? Cheating? Who’s filling Brian’s pockets?

RamblinWreck
04/19/2010 12:17 PM
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Completely agree with you, Doug. Evernham had the sense to get out of that team.

It’s a shame when guys stick around too long; when I started watching races (in the late ’90’s) I had no idea DW was ever good—he was just an old guy who didn’t belong. It wasn’t until much later I learned what a driver he was back before I was born. It’d be a shame if today’s fans only know Petty as the owner of a crappy team.

Leo
04/19/2010 12:20 PM
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Richard Petty went into his business dealings with his eyes wide open. I’m sure the always outspoken Kyle told dad what he thought of it as family and as driver. And Richard proceeded anyway. So to say he should get out before he ruins his legacy ignores that he gave up on his long standing ideals and got in bed with snakes all by himself. The second he gave up on what made Petty Enterprises unique was the second Richard HIMSELF ruined his legacy as far as I am concerned.

Richard in N.C.
04/19/2010 06:05 PM
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Similar to many large stories in the past 5 or so years, what happened with the PE – Boston Ventures deal was one of the most poorly, incompletely reported stories in NASCAR in 2008. A company that reputedly managed over $2 billion comes into NASCAR, falls flat on its face in about 6 months, and in effect the NASCAR and business media acts like it never happened. The recent reporting on the financial problems (if any) at RPM has not been much better. In fairness to The King and his fans, you should make an effort to dig up some facts before pontificating. In any event, The King has done more than enough for NASCAR and his fans to be able to do whatever he darn well pleases. I cannot think of anyone in the media who stands as tall as Richard Petty.

Doug
04/19/2010 07:08 PM
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Anybody making the above comments go to Martinsville this spring? They had a legends autograph session. The line for each driver was to start after the truck race. Mr. The Kings line started forming that morning. He is The King of the South after Elvis died he is all we have. If he fades away we will not have a leader. Roll your eyes at my comment if you want but understand this when Richard Petty walks into a room the room stops in awe.

Joe
04/19/2010 08:22 PM
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I believe John Menard will be a major part of the ownership group before the year is over. If Paul continues to run strong and not have days like they had in Phoenix, John Menard will help this company with their cash flow issues. Big John has plenty of cash.

Carl D.
04/20/2010 11:09 AM
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Menard’s biggest problem is that he has a sentimental attachment to a mediocre driver he’ll never be able to fire.