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Okay, what's the King up to with this Indy 500 venture?


Richard Petty (L), like Junior Johnson (R), likes to keep everyone guessing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


By Mike Mulhern




  Richard Petty at Indianapolis?
   Well, given the dismal state of the economy, particularly in racing, NASCAR and Indy certainly ought to be doing a lot more together, in marketing and promotion, than they've been doing lately.
   Maybe this Petty thing will trigger more synergies, which both sides of the sport could surely use.
   But this Petty thing, okay, what's this all about?
    Well, the obvious points are:
    -- Helping Indy officials and NASCAR execs sell tickets to the July Brickyard 400…not an inconsiderable feat, given last summer's tire debacle.
    -- Helping Petty himself find some more sponsorships.
    Credit John Andretti, one of this sport's more underrated players.
    Andretti, just turned 46, is one of racing's most indefatigable figures. And he's probably the only NASCAR driver who sends out Christmas cards to everyone in the garage….John Andretti is indeed one of this sport's really nice guys.
    Andretti has won in Indy-cars, in NHRA Top Fuelers, in endurance racing, and in NASCAR. He debuted in NASCAR in 1993, at North Wilkesboro. He won at Daytona in July 1997. And his NASCAR win at Martinsville in 1999 was in fact the last time anyone took a Petty Enterprises car to victory lane.

John Andretti (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


This season Andretti is hanging on in Cup racing, driving for Front Row Motorsports, a small team owned by Bob Jenkins. He's 34th in the Cup standings, he's made all the races. Now he's got a deal to run the Indy 500 (which would keep him out of the Charlotte 600, because of the starting times). And he's bringing the King along….to help with visibility and maybe sponsorship too.
     "John and I got together, and he told me what he could do, and I told him what I could do, so now we're getting ready for it," Petty says.
   "I've always been tied up so much with the stock cars that I never really got into the Indy-cars, other than being fascinated by their mechanics and professionalism.  Now that I'm not as day-to-day-to-day as I used to be, this allows me to go do something. 
    "John drove for us for a long time, and we got to be buddies. When he came and said 'Let's try this,' I said 'I'll try anything once.'"
    The Charlotte-Indy-Charlotte logistics may be impossible for Andretti, but Petty will do his own version of the 'double.'
    Petty will fly up for Indy qualifying and then back for the Darlington race Mother's Day Saturday. "And I'll go back up to Indy for the 500 and come back in time for the 600. 
    "It's going to be easier on me than on the driver.
    "Last year was the first time I ever thought about entering a car (at Indy).  John said something about it, and I know there are a few Cup guys that have cars up there in Indianapolis. I think even Richard Childress put his hands in there too at some point.
    "But this is the first time we've had the opportunity to be involved.  It's going to be great. We have a lot of crew guys that came through the Indy ranks, and they are excited about it.'
   "The atmosphere -- you just have to be there to really understand how big it is. You can tell people how big these events are, but you have to be there."

Milka? Andretti's Indy teammate? (Photo: Indy Racing League)

The deal itself, put together by Andretti, is for him to run for Dreyer&Reinbold Racing, a well-known middle-line Indy-car operation which also features Venezuelan Milka Duno occasionally, and which has had Sarah Fisher at the wheel at times too.
    "People have seen the Pettys and Andrettis in the past, so they might as well see us in Indy," Andretti says. "We've been to Indy before together with a roof on…so now we're going to run the convertible.
    "May is a unique month. You have a whole month to do it.  I'd love for Richard to be up there as much as possible because I think he and the fans both enjoy each other.
   "Richard, Dale Inman, Robbie Loomis and Brian Moffitt all came up on race day last year. They got to go around and see what it's like. 
    "It's a different atmosphere -- a lot of tradition. And it's just unique in so many different ways."
    Actually Petty, for all his years in this business, had never been to Indy for the 500 until last year.  
   Where it all might go from here, well, Petty's not jumping in with both feet: "This is just sort of a one-shot deal.
    "We wanted to go and be a part of the big deal.
    "I'm not looking into doing anything more…but we all still have to make a living. So you just never say never."

Okay, King, where does this deal go from here? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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