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Woody: The Petty Plight Is Sad To See

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010

Tough times have beset Richard Petty as he scrambles to keep his team alive and functioning in NASCAR. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

First we were forced to witness the somber demise of Petty Enterprises.

Now we’re watching an equally wrenching battle to keep Richard Petty Motorsports afloat.

No family has meant more and contributed greater to any sport than the Pettys have to NASCAR. Somehow it seems unfair that they should be in such a bind, struggling to survive in a sport they helped build.

It’s not hard to understand what happened: both Petty Enterprises and Richard Petty Motorsports got caught in racing’s version of a Perfect Storm – a sour economy and an anemic product.

Petty Enterprises got behind the times and, once behind, was never able to catch back up. What worked so well in the 1960’s and 1970’s didn’t work in the 21st century.

It was sad to see Kyle Petty leave the team founded by his famous father and grandfather, sadder yet when Richard made the decision to close the doors.

And amid it all came the tragic loss of Adam, Kyle’s sunbeam son and projected heir to the legacy.

Despite the losses, both personal and professional, Richard forged ahead. He joined a team majority-owned by George Gillett and since Richard Petty Motorsports has more a racing ring than George Gillette Motorsports it took on the King’s name.

But the team has struggled, as have most mid-level operations that can’t compete with the mega-teams of Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress and Roush.

Then, among the struggles, came the early-season distraction created when it was announced that Petty’s driver, Kasey Kahne, would be leaving at the end of the season. Another gale-force blast struck the Perfect Storm that was already battering the team.

The dysfunctional situation boiled over a few weeks ago when Kahne and Petty decided to part company before the end of the season.

Now, among the turmoil, come reports that RPM is having financial problems and that Richard is scurrying hat-in-hand to find investors to keep the team solvent and afloat.

There is speculation that the team might not be able to run a full schedule next season – speculation that won’t make Petty’s task any easier.

The Pettys are good people. Patriarch Lee was a stock car pioneer. Richard is the most popular driver in history and NASCAR’s greatest diplomat. Kyle’s big-hearted work with his youth camp is an incredibly stirring story.

But bad things can happen to good people. The Pettys are testament to that.

For four generations the Pettys raced. This season there was no Petty on the track, and now the question looms: will there even be one in the pits?

Richard Petty’s fans are pulling for him. It’s hard to imagine NASCAR without the lanky folk hero in the cowboy hat, trademark sunglasses and a smile once described as whiter than a catfish’s belly.

Racing without Richard Petty? Surely it couldn’t happen. Surely financing can be found. Surely the team can be saved.

Surely there’s some racing justice left.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010
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