Count me as one of those “old school” fans that can remember when Kyle Petty was a threat to win on race days and made a couple appearances at the season ending awards banquet.
I know that those days seem long gone, but during the early ’90s he teamed with owner Felix Sabates to make his #42 Mello Yello Pontiac a threat to win on any race day.
Being Richard Petty’s son was enough to make him a household name in the sport, but unlike the rest of the racing Pettys, there was a lot more to Kyle than crawling behind the wheel of a race car. Kyle definitely didn’t fit the good ol’ Southern boy image of the sport when he first started in 1979.
In a sport that now features drivers that sometimes come across as clones of saying and doing everything that is politically right in the sport, Kyle sticks out among his peers on pit road. He still has his ponytail and earring and said that will probably never change as the last time he cut his hair he suffered a broken leg in a race.
While he still says he enjoys going to the racetrack and racing, much of his time since the death of his son, Adam, in 2000 has focused on raising money for Victory Junction Gang Camp that he and his wife started in memory of their son. The death of Adam was especially hard on Kyle and Petty Enterprises, which was building its future around the younger Petty.
Petty Enterprises was already playing catch-up at the time of Adam’s death and is still trying to find that magic formula that will once again return it to the form when Richard was winning races and championships at a record pace. Kyle and fellow Petty driver Bobby Labonte are both firmly entrenched in the top 35 at the present time, which is a big victory for many of the teams that are not racing for wins and titles.
Even though Kyle brought a huge smile to the faces of all the longtime Petty fans last week with his third place finish in the Coca-Cola 600, most will agree that it will be Labonte that will get the Pettys back to victory lane and that will be alright with Kyle as he only wants what is best for the organization.
Until that day happens there is a lot of living to do for Kyle and this weekend he once again will go where no other driver would dare go during this highly competitive time in the sport. He is going to be stepping out of his #45 Dodge for five of the next six races to become part of TNT’s broadcast team during its portion of the Nextel Cup schedule.
This will not be Kyle’s first visit to the broadcast booth as he did some TV work before Adam’s death and has been in and out of the booth as guest analyst during several races since then. This time will be different as he is giving up his ride in the middle of the season and turning over the fortunes of his race team to rookie Chad McCumbee and former Petty Enterprise driver John Andretti.
Petty’s move from behind the wheel of his Dodge has been approved by all of his sponsors and comes at a time when the competition to stay in the all-important top 35 in owners points is as tight as the battle for making the Chase. Some would question the move to the booth, but for Kyle it is just another chapter in his life that makes him more than just a race car driver.
While Kyle will be with TNT for the next six races, only five of them will be from inside the booth. The road course race at Sonoma will find Kyle back in the race car while still handling his broadcast analyst duties, making it the first time a broadcaster has actually competed in an event.
Kyle turned 47 on Saturday and this stint on TV doesn’t mean he is looking to end his driving career, but he does know he can’t drive forever. His famous last name more than likely makes him a “lifer” in the sport and even though he will no doubt be running Petty Enterprises for years to come, you can’t help but get the feeling we will still be seeing Kyle on race day – not necessarily in a driver’s suit but in the customary dark blazer of a broadcaster.
Race Preview – Event: Pocono 500. Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5-mile tri-angle, 14 degrees of banking in 1, 8 degrees in 2, 6 degrees in 3). Date: June 10, 2 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: MRN. Defending champion: Denny Hamlin.