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Just how far had Petty Enterprises fallen?

By admin | June 16, 2008

By Richard Allen


Things must have gotten pretty bad at Petty Enterprises. As a matter of fact, there must have been a feeling of complete desperation at the home of one of NASCAR’s original teams.

As has been documented in many places, last week Petty Enterprises brought in the investment firm Boston Ventures to help infuse capital into their race team. Typically, these type of firms come into a languishing business, do a few things to improve the business in the short term then attempt to sell the business for a quick profit.

There is no way for anyone other than the powers that be at Boston Ventures to know if that is indeed their intention here or not but it does leave NASCAR’s most famous family treading on dangerous ground.

To further show the amount of desperation that must have been lurking within the walls of the Petty shop, an organization that for years has refused to place a small beer company sticker on their cars, the company is now under the leadership of a person who was once the Chief Operating Officer of Playboy Enterprises.

On track, Petty Enterprises has not been a major force for some time. John Andretti provided the team’s last win all the way back in 1999 at Martinsville. Teams such as Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing have left the Pettys far behind.

In recent years the organization has been able to keep sponsorship and gained a certain degree of credibility by signing 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte. However, that sponsorship and Labonte’s driving have not been enough to return Petty to the ranks of consistent race win and championship contenders.

Signs of not only a lack of performance but a lack of unity appeared a few weeks ago at the Texas Motor Speedway. Kyle Petty was replaced in the #45 car by young Chad McCumbee. At first it was reported that Kyle had agreed to the change in hopes of improving the #45’s performance. However, the third generation Petty soon offered comments that proved quite the contrary point of view. And perhaps worse, it seemed that no one within the organization wanted to take the responsibility of calling for the change.

There are three possible explanations for the fall of Petty Enterprises. First, the Pettys simply were not able to keep up with the changes that have occurred in the sport over the last 20 years. Perhaps, the team had been too successful in the past to allow it to be successful in the present, meaning they had become too set in their ways.

One piece of evidence to point to this would be the fact that not until this year did the team finally move from its Level Cross, North Carolina shop to a new facility closer to the hub of NASCAR in the Charlotte area.

Another possible explanation for Petty’s fall could be that the team has not had the financial resources to compete with the more powerful teams. The previously mentioned teams operate 3, 4 and 5 car teams with each being heavily financed which allows those teams to equip their shops with all the latest and most technical machinery as well as the employees to man such machinery.

Petty Enterprises has stuck to the two car team philosophy for too long. The other teams have many more cars conducting many more tests and applying more manpower to solve any problem that might arise.

The Petty Enterprises downfall almost certainly has to be credited to one of those two previously mentioned scenarios. If it is not one of those, the only other possibility would be that the Pettys have simply lost interest in competing and winning. This, for an organization that has won 10 championships and over 200 races in its storied history, seems highly unlikely.

Whatever the case, the dropping of Petty Enterprises from the ranks of NASCAR’s top teams is a sad story. Unfortunately, it is a sad story because for the most part the Pettys have allowed it to happen.

In recent years the Pettys have been gone from victory lane, and now are gone from Level Cross, but hopefully not gone from racing altogether.

Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.

Topics: Articles |

3 Responses to “Just how far had Petty Enterprises fallen?”

  1. Rick Says:
    June 17th, 2008 at 8:27 am

    Since 1975 I have never pulled for anyone who doesn’t have the Petty last name. I think its safe to say the decline of PE should fall upon the shoulders of no one except the King. For far too long he treated the company like a family. As an example, John Andretti told the story of how he sat in on a meeting in which he was discussing his salary. The King made an offer and he and Kyle started talking. Andretti said he came away with more money than the King offered and he never even opened his mouth during the meeting. Other drivers said they drove for the Petty’s based on nothing more than a handshake. While all this was going on, RCR, Hendrick, DEI etc were bringing in engineers and 7 post rigs. And when you fall back like they have, it’s pretty hard to demand $20million from a sponsor. But stories persist that they had one signed, sealed but not quite delivered… and it was all based on one name: Adam. When he died, that deal fell through. I think had Adam livd and those deals come through, we would see an entirely different Petty Enterprises today.
    I think the move to Mooresville and bringing in Boston Ventures will pay huge dividends, otherwise Labonte would have vacated. And since Kyle isn’t CEO anymore, he can concentrate on driving the damn race car for a change. I also think BV will bring high dollar sponsors to the team and thats what it takes to win races.
    Petty Enterprises will win races, maybe even this year, and I think they will win championships again. But it won’t be quite the same because a Petty won’t own the company. But as a fan of the team, I think Richard did the right thing: he put the team first.

  2. ed Says:
    June 17th, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Unfortunately, the Pettys just haven’t kept up in many areas. They do have a good drive in Bobby and are lucky for it. I don’t think a bigger name then Labonte would move to Petty right now or even for the past few years.

    The earlier post mentions the death on Adam. It was tragic and caused Kyle to go out and do even more great things for the needy but definitely detracted from the team and being successful. Plus being one of th emost stubborn men in racing, whch is saying alot, doesn’t help.

    Good luck to them but they need some serious changes adn that might be Kyle stepping away from being a driver and also being the head of the company.

    Let’s be honest. The Petty organization hasn’t been truly competitive for over 15 years.

  3. Tim Says:
    June 17th, 2008 at 6:18 pm

    I think the demise of PE was a long time in the making. Sadly, it probably started when Richard put Kyle in a race car back in the late 70’s. Kyle tore up a bunch of cars for a long time those first few years, which took time and money away from building Richard better cars. The whole revolving chairs thing in the mid 80’s with PE2 and Mike Curb certainly pulled a lot of the talent pool out of what was PE. And I think Richard stayed in the car several years longer than he should have. If Richard had retired in the mid 80’s instead of waiting until 1992, PE could have found a winning driver to take over. and having a winning driver means getting the better sponsors. Having Kyle as CEO was probably also a bad move, as he always seemed too distracted by his other hobbies. He certainly never showed the dedication to winning that Richard or Lee showed. I’ve always read stories that Richard was pretty tight with a dollar, to the point several years ago that Kyle nearly threw up his hands in frustration. I think switching from Chevy to Dodge wasn’t the best move, although it probably seemed like it at the time. Dodge never really came thru with the engineering support a nascar team needs to succeed. A lot of different factors, really. They just all added up over time to where they are today.