Petty’s Perseverance Puts Him Back Onto His Throne
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
When it comes to life lessons learned from auto racing, few can compare to the example of Richard Petty’s perseverance.
Yes, he has been and remains the sport’s King when it comes to race wins, championships, career starts, poles, popularity and a lot of other categories.
But since his winning days as both a driver and a car owner seemed to have ended, Petty kept on trying, for years and years.
Finally on Sunday at Infineon Raceway, the King was back in Victory Lane with his driver Kasey Kahne. It was his first appearance there since John Andretti won at Martinsville in 1999 in a Petty car.
Petty’s last win as a driver came at Daytona in July, 1984. He continued behind the wheel until 1992, a losing stretch that undoubtedly was difficult for a 200-time winner. He admitted as much when talking about the end of his 17-year losing streak as a car owner.
“I’m a hard head,” Petty said. “That’s the reason I keep coming back. The same deal that I ran into when I drove. I drove, and I won in ’84, and then didn’t win anymore. It finally dawned on me, ‘You’re not good enough doing your job to win any more races, so you’d better get out.’ ”
The next year after he retired, Rick Wilson drove the famed No. 43, but scored just one top-10 finish, ironically at Infineon.
At the end of that season, Petty, who could have rested on his many laurels for the rest of his life, seemed fiercely determined to make his family-owned team a winner again.
“If I have to fire everybody except the car owner, I’ll do it,” he said one November afternoon after cutting the ribbon on Richard Petty Boulevard behind Atlanta Motor Speedway.
He did fire Wilson and others, and by 1996 Bobby Hamilton was winning again in the No. 43.
After Andretti’s win in 1999, it looked as if the Pettys were on the upswing again. A fourth-generation member of the family, one with abundant talent, was being groomed to steer the family ship.
But Adam Petty died in a crash at New Hampshire in May of the next year and sent the Petty team into a tailspin from which it never recovered.
Still, Richard Petty kept coming back to the race tracks and kept trying to win races.
When he signed on with the team now known as Richard Petty Motorsports, many in the sport figured he’d merely be a famous figurehead for the team Ray Evernham founded and sold to the George Gillett family.
But Petty had other ideas. Almost immediately he showed up at Rockingham for a test session and began to involve himself in the running of the team.
One long-time team member said Petty’s grasp of the racing business stunned him. Petty was able to accurately assess the strength and weaknesses of the team, its equipment and its personnel in a couple of days, something it took others as much as six months to do.
At Daytona earlier this year, Petty was asked how important it was for his old car number, 43, to get back in Victory Lane with its new driver, Reed Sorenson. His answer showed where his priorities are.
“It’s not as important as getting the whole team going,” he said. “The 43 has done its thing. After winning 200 races, it’s made its history.
“I’d like to make the driver in the car have a history, not just the car. People don’t buy tickets to see Richard Petty.”
He came close to that breakthrough win at Daytona as three of his drivers, Sorenson, Elliott Sadler and A.J. Allmendinger, finished in the top 10 in the rain-shortened 500. Then there were more struggles before Kahne won on Sunday.
Through it all, Petty kept on doing his part, and it finally paid off.
“When you’ve got drivers like we’ve got now that are carrying their part of the load, then it’s up to me to push the mechanics or push everybody to give these guys the very best that we can give them,” Petty said. “And when we give them the good stuff, then they’re going to run good.
I’m a very optimist person. Just because we didn’t do it yesterday, that doesn’t mean we can’t do it today.
“If we hadn’t have won the race today, we would have gone to New Hampshire and in my mind we would have won New Hampshire.
“But this makes it a little better going up there now.”One Comment