Later this year Richard Petty will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first Cup race and look back on a career that posted numbers that will never be duplicated. The King’s 200 Cup career wins came over a long and highly successful career with the bulk of those and his seven championships coming while driving for Petty Enterprises.
Near the end of the King’s career, the way owners went about the business of racing in the sport began to change. Owners began using the multiple team approach that brought in more sponsorship dollars. Those dollars were used to build better shops and hire more people to work on the cars. This approach soon had the rich getting richer as the multi-car teams were becoming very successful both on the track and attracting sponsors.
Petty bucked the trend and kept his one team and later a second team for son Kyle in Level Cross, N.C., in the same buildings that had been making race cars ever since NASCAR was formed. The on-track performance was no longer there and with very little success on the track, the sponsorship dollars became harder and harder to come by.
Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that all you need to be successful in this sport is a great driver and team. This sport is fueled by money – without it no team will ever be successful. It is no coincidence that the teams that enjoy the most success each week are those that have the bigtime sponsors or investors willing to put up the millions it takes to run up front on a regular basis.
Petty has known this for years but has fought it. He liked that Petty Enterprises belonged to his family but the one thing he never could grow to like was the fact his beloved operation could no longer be competitive in the sport.
The only way to reverse the fortunes of Petty Enterprises and get it headed back to the level it once enjoyed was to find an investor. That finally happened last week and now the long process of turning the operation’s fortunes around can begin.
Petty sold controlling interest in Petty Enterprises to Boston Ventures, a private equity corporation with holdings in over 70 companies. While he will still have a big say in the racing side of the business, the King will no longer have total control over the operation that bears his famous last name.
Boston Ventures will be able to bring to Petty Enterprises something that Richard and Kyle were never able to do. The deal will now give the operation the money it needs to bring in better people including much-needed engineers along with top-of-theline equipment that will help put some life into the stale operation.
David Zucker has assumed the role of CEO at Petty Enterprises and he brings a wealth of business experience to the operation. While he attends to the task of attracting sponsors and promoting the Petty brand, Richard along with Robbie Loomis will continue to work on the racing side of the business.
There will be no quick fix in turning the team’s fortunes around. The results may begin to show in a couple of races or it may take a couple of seasons before Petty Enterprises will once again race for wins and championships. The new merger has already produced one good piece of news and that is the renewal of Bobby Labonte’s contract. The former Cup champion extended his contract four more years and that is definitely the kind of good news a team can begin building on.
In many ways, Petty Enterprises is the last link to the early years of NASCAR and it is a piece of history the sport always needs to have. While you may not be a Petty fan, if you are a fan of the sport you can’t help but root for this operation to return to its successful ways. It will only make the sport stronger and keep that much-needed link to the past still there for all of us to enjoy.
Race Preview – Event: Toyota/Save Mart 350. Track: Infineon Raceway (1.99-mile road course, 10 turns). Date: June 22, 5 p.m. TV: TNT. Radio: PRN. Defending champion: Juan Pablo Montoya.