NASCAR Media Conference
June 23, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR CAM video teleconference and a chance to speak with a very special guest, that's Richard Petty, the seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, and he's joining us from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
Richard Petty returned to victory lane as a car owner for the first time since '99 this past weekend, which Richard Petty Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne a victory at Infineon Raceway. Next week at Daytona on the Fourth of July, Richard is going to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the epic 200th career victory he had back in the 1984 Firecracker 400.
Richard, first of all, tell us what it was like to get back into victory lane this past weekend, and also, what's it going to be like when you come back down to Daytona and look back on the unbelievable win in '84 what will that be like?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, just winning any race, being involved in it, whether you're a mechanic or owner or driver or whatever is great, and it's been pretty good while since we won one, so I was trying to take it all in.
You know, it was just a good day. Everything was perfect for that day for us. And you know, then it's the same thing when I look back 25 years ago at Daytona when we won our 200th race, everything was perfect, come down to the last of the race and we just needed to win. But the main thing was we was prepared to do the best we could and we was prepared for what the circumstances were and were able to beat the circumstances.
So, you know, although it's been 25 years ago, I still remember a lot of it, but it's the last time I won a race driving, so naturally that's going to be in your memory the most.
Q. I know in victory lane, you told me that this would be good, obviously, for your company, we all know that, to have a win and the economics of the whole situation. But I want to ask you, because you've been around for a long time, people don't always remember the struggles that you guys have had up until most recently, but thinking years and years back, can you remember going through an economic time like this or times when you guys have had to really struggle just to stay there years and years ago?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, you've got to figure, we was there way before people had sponsorships. You know, my dad and mother run it out of their pocket book, and so we've been up and down in those situations over a period of time. We have been there when the factories were involved and the factories got out, and we've been through other recessions or whatever they want to call it, over a period of time, but none of them have affected us as directly as what's going on today. You know, it might have been in the back of business or might have been in textile business but that didn't really affect us or most of our fans. Now the way the economy is, it's affecting everybody, whether you're in the limelight or wherever you're at, it's really affected everybody.
It's really affected racing because it's affected the whole economy of the United States.
Q. Do you feel being a tough guy that was very resourcefulness that your resourcefulness will propel you through it?
RICHARD PETTY: Always look at when times are tough, tough's got to get tougher, okay. And you have to sort of do with your business or your personal deal, you just have to tighten up on some of the stuff, you've been maybe a little bit too loose on anyway.
You've got to figure, our economy has been really, really good, and being it was good, a lot of times me at home or me in my business have got a little bit too easy with our money, I guess, because it was easy come, so you just went ahead and spent and went on down the road. Now you're going to have to tighten up some of the places you got too loose on.
It's like anything else, the ones that can control it now and all of the people that really come through this deal are going to come out the other end a lot stronger and a lot of people are going to go buy the wayside, so we're going to come out of it and we're going to come out of it in pretty good shape.
Q. Let's go back to happier times back there 25 years ago, do you remember a lot about that race, and that day? Can you give me sort of a snapshot of that day for you?
RICHARD PETTY: I'm going to tell you the things that really stood out with me. We went down there and we went into practice, and I don't even know if we qualified. I guess we was running pretty good. The big deal was the President of the United States was going to come on July the 4th. He was coming to the race, and you know, he was the one that said, you know, gentlemen, start your engines. He was flying from somewhere to Daytona.
Then I don't remember, that was. It we went out and we do our racing, and it comes down to the end of the race, and Ken Yarborough and myself, I happened to be leading and Ken was running second so we come down to I guess three laps to go and as we came across the start/finish line, I was leading the race, Ken was running second and as we come across the start finish line down in the first corner right on the edge of the infield was his car way up in there, that's when we raced back to the flag. So Ken myself knew that this was the last lap, guys.
So we go through the corner, going through the backstretch, Gil passes me like I knew what he was going to do because couldn't do anything with the draft and as he did, went into the third corner and the car moves up a little bit and I pulled in beside it and we are hung side-by-side going into three, into four, down the front stretch. And I happened to be on the inside lane and when we got to the dogleg then we both turn and my car runs three foot shorter than his and I wind up winning the race.
You know, they was throwing the caution, and so we still had another lap to go, and Kale I think came down pit road the next time in thinking the race was over and we still had a lap to go. Then when that was over, they had said for the winner to stop at start/finish line and get out of the car and go up into the announcer's booth because the president was up in the announcer's booth. So I get out of the car and I wander up, go up in and talk to the President a little bit up there and he's kind of blown away because you know, we are running side-by-side and smoke is coming off the car and running 200 mile line, blew his mind, he had not seen anything particularly like that.
Then we got through that and came back down to the winner's circle and we do the winner's circle for the 200th win and all this stuff and when that was over with, then they let everybody out of the track and they let all of the drivers and crew chiefs and their families and stuff back into the garage area. And we had a picnic with the President of the United States on July the 4th, so you know, it was a great, great day for us. I think it was a great day for racing.
Q. I talked to Mike Curb last week and I didn't really realize that he was your car owner that year, so that win actually went to Mike Curb. Can you talk about Mike and his role in that win?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, we got involved with Mike I think in '84, and he was, I guess, governor, vice governor, whatever they have, in California, and a big Republican. So I don't know, and he knew pretty much knew our President at that time. And so I think he was one of the big instigators in getting the President to come to the racetrack to begin with. So you know, he was naturally up there getting his picture took with him. It was a big deal, big deal for us and it was a big deal for him because I think he had something to do with getting the President there.
Q. I'm sure you've heard there's been a lot of speculation recently about whether Richard Petty motorsports would change manufacturers this season or next season.
RICHARD PETTY: Something about next season. What do you want to know?
Q. There's been speculation about whether Richard Petty motorsports would change manufacturers this season or next season, wonder if you can clear that up for us.
RICHARD PETTY: I can't say because I don't know. I do know that we are looking at all option that is we have got. We've been with Dodge all these years, and you know, we don't really know where they are at. We are talking to Dodge. We are talking to anybody that wants to talk.
Right now we are in the process of trying to come up with what we think is going to be best for Richard Petty Motorsports, not only in the near future but in the future way on out there. So I really can't speculate on that, or can't say anything about it because it would be purely speculation.
Q. A bit off the subject of Daytona but I'm wondering, I'm working on a project on Pocono racing, can you recall the early days of you coming to Pocono and the role that Pocono played in expanding it's series to a national series from a southern series.
RICHARD PETTY: Really I think the first time we went to Pocono we ran a couple of USAC races up there right before NASCAR came. A couple of 500-mile races and when NASCAR got up there, I had a little practice on the track, so we was able to win the first race. But it really opened up a big area of people up there, all in Pennsylvania, you can't believe how many fans we had in Pennsylvania. I think we did a survey one time and North Carolina had the most fans but Pennsylvania was the second most populous as far as going to the races all over the country.
And so it really opened up that whole area in the northern part of the country. We were a southern sport and that's where we started and we was there for a long time, and then when you did get to go to Pocono, you was exposed to New York, but you was exposed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, all of the northeast at that particular time because that was the only thing up there.
So I think it made it more legitimate. It helped moved us out of the south and made us more of a national sport.
Q. If my memory is correct, you just referred to your running in a USAC race or two before NASCAR came to Pocono. You were not exactly welcomed by the USAC folks were you?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, not really, okay. When we got there, they had some garage areas, and there was some of them that was still empty but anyhow, they made us park out in the tent in the gravel working on the track, behind the garage area, and the gentleman that owned the racetrack, he decided that wasn't going to work and he told them guys, if Richard Petty did not get in the garage area he was going to run them all out.
So that pretty much took care of it. Once we got there and got talking to them guys and stuff, hey, it wasn't the guys we was competing against; it was the USAC officials.
But I think everybody got on their fanny and by the time it was ready to race, everybody had come around. We came back the second year and we was welcomed with open arms.
Q. One last thing. Do you recall any strange or funny things happening at Pocono? I recall one specifically where you tried to run down or catch David Pearson in the last lap of a race and his car was smoking and you could not see through the smoke to catch him. Do you recall any things like that?
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, I kept telling him I couldn't see through the smoke.
I kept telling him, I said, "Man, you could throw a black flag to the guys that's swinging down a bunch of smoke. " And he wound up winning the race. They finally black-flagged him the last lap or something, but anyhow, that was one of the deals.
One of the worst times I had deals was back in 1980 or something, I blue a tire or broke a wheel going into the tunnel turn, and wound up breaking my neck. That was, I remember that part more than the good times, I guess.
Q. Coming to the yellow lap in the '84 race, lap cars were down the inside, how much did that help, looking like there were cars down at the bottom, was that something you were able to help draft? Might they have given you the three extra feet?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, I guess when you look at it and think about that part, when we came off the fourth turn, naturally if it had been anybody in the way, then I probably would have drifted back to the inside and took the inside of the racetrack. The way it was, there was already some cars there that we were lapping, so we had to stay a lap and a half up.
So really when we brought Kale through the dogleg, he was really out of the groove. In other words, his part of the car was probably up in the loose stuff and I was able to do that without really blocking him because everybody was seeing that you had to get out of the way. So probably, I never thought about it playing a part in it, but it could have played a very big part in the way we come across the line.
Q. Had you met President Reagan before that day? I know you were county commissioner and involved in politics, but had you met him before that?
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, I had met him before. When he was running for President and he was in the primary, Linda, my wife and myself, went to Baltimore, and we met him in a motel room up there and talked to him for a good hour, maybe longer. She was on the school boards and wanted to know what he thought about schools and all that kind of stuff. I was county commissioner to we talked a bunch of politics and we just really liked him.
He's just a down-home guy, and then when we did meet at Daytona, then he remembered the incident. I don't know whether somebody had told him, had you met Richard before, and this was the deal. But he remembered that part.
So it wasn't like we met as strangers. I might have been strange to him but he wasn't strange to me.
Q. Also want to ask you, just what did it mean for the sport at that time and the publicity with that to have the President at the race? What did it do for the sport? Obviously 1979 gained a lot of national attention because of the finish of the Daytona 500, but what did 1984, the Firecracker year win, the President being there, in what ways would that have helped the sport elevate its status nationally?
RICHARD PETTY: I think it took us another notch up. I always figure that we went upstairs and still going upstairs. Sometimes you took two steps at a time and stayed one step. I think this was a two-stepper from the standpoint that it was July 4, the President is running for the President of the United States, and so naturally you've got worldwide press, and then he comes to the race, that's a big deal.
Then he comes and we win our 200th race which was a big deal from the race deal, and I told him, some of the guys, you know, we got the President of the United States on the sports page, and the President of the United States got us on front page. So it was a pretty good tradeoff.
Q. Can you look back at what Sunday's meant to have one of its icons back in victory lane, and what it means for Richard Petty motorsports moving forward financially?
RICHARD PETTY: Okay. That one again.
Q. What's it meant for the sport to have one of its icons back in victory lane? And secondly, what does it mean for Richard Petty motorsports moving forward from a financial standpoint?
RICHARD PETTY: Naturally it's good for morale, if nothing else. But under the circumstances, as tough as it is for sponsorships and all this kind of stuff, it's a big plus, from the Richard Petty Motorsports situation.
I think if we are looking at things that kind of propel our sport or getting new attention, with Kasey winning the race, Dodge winning the race, and being on a road course, then it's different than the winners we have had before, and the rest of this season, because the people we have had winning races are the people that win every week or run up front every week. We have got a new winner, I guess is what I'm saying, and that causes a lot of excitement throughout the whole country as far as sports fans are concerned.
And I think it was really good for Kasey, it was good for us. I think it was good for racing because you've got something different to talk about. You're talking to me as an owner, you talk to Kasey as a winner now instead of just talking to us as not being winners, okay.
So you put a little bit of a different emphasis on it, I think it was really good. Financially, nobody has knocked on our doors and said, we are going to sponsor your car. But when you do call them, they know who you are, and so that really helps.
Q. Why at your age do you still want to stay in the sport and still be so actively involved?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, you've got to figure that I've been doing this since I was seven years old and it's all I've ever done and all I've ever really wanted to do. Basically now it's my hobby. I don't play golf. I'm not that big a hunter, all this kind of stuff. My hobby is being around the racetrack and seeing people and just doing the things that I'm doing.
Sometimes it gets kind of aggravating but overall it's really what I want to do and it's what I have always done and I always feel like as long as I can do it, I want to keep doing it because if I ever pull over to the side of the road, somebody is going to go by me and I don't like that part.
Q. What's probably the funniest thing you ever did after you won a race? Today they burnouts and do backflips. Did you have any experience like that?
RICHARD PETTY: No, not really. I tell you, I won a couple of races and told the people, excuse me, I've got to go to the bathroom. I think that was the most exciting thing that I ever done, but they didn't do burnouts back then. They didn't do back flips, you just went to the winner's circle and got your money and went home.
I don't think I did anything very spectacular. I thought winning the race was spectacular enough.
Q. When you got to victory lane, did you ever have to wear a goofy hat or anything like that?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, you probably have, I think we was at Talladega and we won the race in a Pontiac and the head Pontiac man was down there and they get us like a punch bowl and he never taken his hat off and put the punch bowl on his hat and that was about the funniest thing.
Q. Everybody is amazed at what Mark Martin is doing at 50, he's won three races, when you get to that age and you're still racing, what are you fighting as far as your skills to stay competitive?
RICHARD PETTY: I'm a big believer in mind over matter. So whatever he has to do to get in that race car and he's still dead set on winning races instead of just running around out there, he wants to be competitive. You know, when you talk to Mark or you see him and you see how he's operated, if you knew him ten or 20 years ago, he's the same guy. He's still got that burning desire to get in that car, and that's what gets him in there and what gets it done is he's got a strong mind to tell his body what it needs to do. So that's how he's getting it done.
Q. Is there any one thing that you can point to where a driver says, okay, it's time for me to get out of the car?
RICHARD PETTY: I think everybody looks at it different. I think every sports fan or sports celebrity, whether it be golf or driving a race car or whatever, just some days you sit down and say, the idea is to be doing this or shouldn't I be doing something else, or I'm not doing what I really set out to do, I'm not accomplishing anything; everybody just looks at it I think a little bit different.
You know, I use driving as a hobby as long as spring training p would pay the Bill and one day they called up and said, you have to do better or we are not going to pay you no more, and I said, see ya, I'm going to get out of this thing.
Q. When you merged with Gillett and RPM was created, did you see or feel the victory lane drought coming to an end?
RICHARD PETTY: Yes, I did. I looked at it and I seen when we looked at the Gillett deal which was really started by Evernham, they put the people and the place and they put everything together and they just wasn't winning as much as what we thought they could. Then I felt like that if I brought in three or four of my people, and we got in there and maybe boost their morale a little bit, you know, they have got everything everybody else as got, okay, and they have not been here as long as the Roush's and the Hendricks and some of the other teams, so you're always going to be behind from that standpoint.
So the deal is, I said, okay, with some of the experience and some of the people that I have had that work for me like Bill Edmonton working with me for 40 years or whatever, Robbie Loomis, you bring these people in that's got this experience, and they have been through a lot of these up-and-downs, and so when we come in here, they had everything already lined up. All we tried to do was come in and even up or sand up some of the rough edges and make it work a little bit better, and I think our crowd has come in and worked on that. I think that they have come in with helping the morale of the situation, and overall, yeah, it was a winning race team and it's still a winning race team and it's going to win a bunch more races, but once they get everything all lined up, and it's like everything else, when things fall in line, then you win races, so we are just trying to get everything lined up.
Q. As far as you probably can't remember how many times you put a helmet on, you can't remember how many times you've seen someone put a helmet on, do you think drivers, their personalities change when that helmet goes on?
RICHARD PETTY: No, I don't, you know what I mean. When I see somebody drive a race car, then I could pretty well tell you their personality went out of the car or if I talked to somebody out of the car, I can pretty well tell you what they are going to do in the car as far as the way they drive, not if they win or lose or anything like that. But you talk to some people and maybe they are a little rougher around the edges, when they get in the race car, they are rough in the race car and you talk to other people that's real smooth talkers or just smooth people, I guess, is the way I look at it, they get in that race car, they never boggle, they never do nothing; you know what they are going to do.
I think just because you put the helmet on, I don't think it changes your personality.
THE MODERATOR: Richard Petty, thanks for spending some time with us. Great to see you in victory lane and hope you have a great time coming back to Daytona to celebrate that great moment from 25 years ago.
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