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Richard Petty has little time for nostalgia...NASCAR's too big now to do things in the same old ways

By Mike Mulhern

   Richard Petty always looks optimistic.
   When he's not angry and bothered, that is.
   At the moment, here in mid-January, just a few weeks after his latest business merger, with George Gillett, he insists he's optimistic.
   Gillett has cast off former business partner Ray Evernham. Petty has all but dropped former business partner Boston Ventures.
   And Petty has finally agreed to terms with Gillett for a merger. Of sorts. Just what kind of business deal this may be, it's not clear.
   Three teams, with a fourth part-time, with AJ Allmendinger, hoping for a full-time deal.
   A lot of upside potential here.
   "We've been in this stuff for 60 years now," Petty muses. "We tried that deal with Boston Ventures. But it went upside down, and everybody was scrambling around. I'd talked with George a couple years ago about doing a deal, but it just didn't work out at that time.
   "Right now we felt this would be better for both of us, the economy. We sort of needed a place to step. And George wanted to grow…and we were able bring both the 43 and 44 in.
   "And this is what we've got."
   Any nostalgia for what was, and what will probably never be again?
   "Time moves on," Petty says. "Once, North Wilkesboro and Rockingham were part of the heart of our sport. But they went away.
   "Time moves on, and time has moved on from Petty Enterprises and the Woods boys and Earnhardt (DEI). Junior Johnson, Bud Moore….they all came in, did their thing, and went away.
   "That's good for NASCAR….because you've got new blood, new ideas, new ways of doing things. And I think you'll get the new fans that way."
  Of course at the risk of losing many of the old fans.
   "You look at the Earnhardt deal and the old Petty deal, and we did a lot of our stuff from the inside-out," Petty said. "Now you've got companies from outside coming in and looking at this from the financial side.
   "All we ever did was just try to get up enough money to go racing. We didn't look that far into the future – let's just raise enough money for this year, and we'll worry about next year next year.
   "Big companies just don't that. Their long-term deals are big enough that if one thing falls off they've got something else to cover them.
   "We never had any insurance with what we'd do. We'd just do it.
   "And as big as NASCAR's got, we can't operate that way now."
   Can Petty – or whatever this new incarnation – ever catch up with the sport's kingpins, Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress?
   "Well, when they first came in, we were on top-of-the-hill, and they were chasing us," Petty said. "Then we all got even. Then we fell off the hill and they took over.
   "By joining with George, this puts us closer to them. There are four or five top teams…and I think we're number six now."
   Maybe, maybe not.
   "We're not 15th or 20th team, like I was before we joined up with George," Petty says.
   Petty says he feels more a part of things with this new operation than he did during his time as partner with Boston Ventures.
   "These people know racing…and Boston Ventures didn't know racing, it was just an investment firm," Petty said.
   "These guys know racing is more people-to-people than numbers-to-numbers.
   "So it will be a lot easier for my guys to work with these people."
   Petty says it is a bit sad perhaps that son Kyle is no longer part of the family business. "But then we don't really have a family business like he grew up in, and as I grew up in," Petty said. "The business world has changed.
   "Kyle is 48, and he'll have to go do his own thing. But after all he's been through in his career, he ought to be able to make something work."
   And Petty denied any major rift between him and Kyle….though the father and son have had a rather, well, head-strong relationship over the years.
   "Not that I know of….ask his mother," Petty said with a laugh. "Basically we're just going in two different directions. I'm 72 years old. And I'm looking at the world one way. And he's 48 and still young and looking at the world another way….which he's always done, though we'd always been able to make it work.
   "As far as personal stuff, nothing's changed in the last 48 years."

   And what exactly is Richard Petty's new role in this new venture? "I'm going to be doing the same thing I've been doing the last eight or 10 years – nothing. Or as little as I can.
  "I guess my responsibility is working with the sponsors and doing personal appearances for them. Whatever I can to advertise our team….and show up at 99 percent of the races."
   Sponsorship, Petty concedes, is still an issue for the team. "We're hoping the economy turns around so we can go forward with everything."
   However not much remains of Petty Enterprises, Petty says. Most of those men have been laid off, though Loomis says he hopes some can eventually be rehired.
   "But then how many companies are still wholly owned by the people who started them?" Petty says. "They usually go into corporations.
  "And NASCAR is getting to be such a big business that it's hard for an individual to make it work."
   And where do Ray Evernham and Kyle Petty into this new operation?
   Nowhere, or at least nowhere prominent, it appears.
   "Kyle, even last year," Petty says, "was doing just spot-races, along with his TV deal. He's been working his way out of the Cup situation.
   "As we go along, we might even run him a race or two. But right now I don't think he knows where he's at….and we don't know where he's at.
   "He's cutting his own trail basically."
    And what about Dodge? Italian car maker Fiat may be looking to buy a stake in Chrysler. "With only two Dodge operations now," Petty said, "we ought to be in better shape with Dodge.
  "Now what they do, whether they survive for another 10 years or another two months I don't know and they don't know either.
   "And it's the same with General Motors."
   Boston Ventures? Was it a mistake, in retrospect?
   No, Petty insists.
   "The way it worked out, there was a lot of confusion…but it made mine and George's deal a lot better when we did join," Petty said.
   "I learned a lot working with Boston Ventures…so when we go with George we don't make the same mistakes."

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