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NASCAR Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  NASCAR

NASCAR Media Conference

Richard Petty
July 8, 2008


THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series video teleconference in advance of Saturday's LifeLock 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. We have a very personal guest today, the king, known as 7-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, who this week is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his first official NASCAR start.
Richard, you own some of the sports biggest records, and your name, plus that of your family's race team, Petty Enterprises are certainly synonymous with NASCAR; what's the significance of this golden anniversary to you?
RICHARD PETTY: It's just I've survived these years I guess more than anything else. You look back over the history and stuff, and I come along on the history; starting NASCAR, I think it was ten years old when I ran my first race, and I went to the very first Cup race they had in 1949 in Charlotte with my father when I was like 11 years old.
So I've been there ever since NASCAR started basically and I just come along at the right time to grow up with NASCAR.

Q. Pulling up the first race you were in, it says the Canadian exposition Stadium in Toronto, July 18, 1958; is that right?
RICHARD PETTY: That was the first Cup race. The first race I was in was a convertible race.

Q. Do you remember this particular race, your first race in the Cup Series?
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, we went to Canada and I was running around there getting lap and Jim Roper (ph) knocked me in the wall, so I wound up in the wall and he ended up winning the race, so it wasn't all bad.

Q. It got better as the years went on, I guess.
RICHARD PETTY: Yeah, I got better.

Q. You had a lot of success at Daytona. Can you just talk about that and how it impacted your career overall?
RICHARD PETTY: Really, I grew up with Daytona. The very first 500 there was in 1959 and I think I'd run Darlington, but there weren't that many superspeedways so we went to Daytona to run the race. And it wound up being really great for my career from the standpoint that Daytona was just getting started. I was just getting started, and as Daytona grew, I was fortunate enough to win some races there, and I grew with it.
Always said about Daytona was, when you win Daytona you win it all year long whether you ran any more races or not. So everywhere you went you was introduced as a Daytona 500 winner and that has made it work really, really good for me and like I say, I was able to win races and win championships, I was still winning some Daytona races and it just grew together.
So I think the history of Daytona, and Richard Petty kind of go side-by-side.

Q. I wanted to talk to you about Kyle Busch, he's won six races already and is on a pace to win double digits and you did that two times in your career. Can you talk about what it's like when you get on a roll when you're winning 10,11, 12, 13 more races in the year?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, you get on a roll and you wonder, where was he at last year, you know what I mean? Why wasn't we doing that. And you get on a roll and everything goes good for a while, and all of a sudden, you're like Tony Stewart is right now. He should have won seven or eight races or should have had a chance to win this year, but some things keep happening.
I tell the story, in '71 and '72 we won a championship and a bunch of races. '73, we couldn't win anything, and from the standpoint that it was just a bad year, we had the same car, the same crew, same engine, same engine people, had the same deal, and then we came back and couldn't do anything in '73.
Came back in 74 and '75 and with the same crew, same car, everything, and won a championship again.
So when you're on a roll, you just have to take advantage of it, because a lot of times you don't know why you're there, and you just know that working hard will keep you there but sometimes slaps you down. I think we have to lose races from time to time in order to enjoy the ones we win, because if you won all the time, then it would get kind of boring for you and everybody else.

Q. Is it tougher to do nowadays? There's only been a couple in the last ten years; is it harder with the balance of teams now to win double digits?
RICHARD PETTY: You know, it's been harder to do, because you have to figure that the cars are running so much closer now, and you can't afford to get a lap down or two laps down no matter how fast your car is; you're not going to win, and we had different circumstances at the particular time that we was doing some of our stuff.
So when you look at it from that standpoint, there's nobody really dominates for very long. I mean, like the end of last year, the Hendricks' cars were beating everybody and you said, man, it's going to be terrible the next year and they are going to win everything. Well, they have come out and I think won one or two races and you wonder what happens. And they sit there, and say, what are we doing different, what are we doing wrong.
You know, whatever roll you're on, you really don't know why you're there a lot of times. So you just have to live with it, and it will go on for Busch right now, he's in that zone. All of the planets are lined up or whatever it is and he's doing his thing. And then it won't be long before somebody else will take over the hill.

Q. You saw Mark Martin signing with Hendrick Motorsports for next season, so you have a pretty strong group there. What was it like back in the day when they put you and David Pearson and Bobby Allison on the same team?
RICHARD PETTY: A lot of competition, I know that, because they were very competitive deals.
And as far as they weren't the same players. They was team players with whoever they was working with, Woods brothers or whoever. But when you wound up and if they had the same two cars on one team, it would have been kind of difficult for any of us to accept at that particular time, because the times have changed now, and these guys are coming in and they are coming in as team drivers to begin with, so they look at it a little bit different.

Q. You guys would have had a lot of brawls back then probably, more than you had?
RICHARD PETTY: Could be. The money wasn't there, either.

Q. Of all your accomplishments, does any one stand out particularly for you?
RICHARD PETTY: Just being here I guess. If you looked at all of those wrecks I ran over a period of 35 years or whatever.
I tell everybody, when I won my very first race, I said, nothing will ever be this big. But then you get fortunate enough to win more and more and over a period of time; it gets diluted. So no matter how happy you are one day in, three for our weeks, you've done forgot about that and you're on another kick.
So I don't know of anything as one individual. The only deal is you just kind of cup it all together and say, okay, that's what happened while they was in this particular zone, and so really, I don't think there's any one particular day that it really stands out or any particular race.
I do know that when I sit around and talk about it or listen to people or whatever, the ones that got away are the ones that you really worry about and you say, we should have done better in this race or that race. So those are probably in your mind more than the ones that you won.

Q. What's it like to be Richard Petty and to have people call you "the King" and look at you that way?
RICHARD PETTY: I don't know. I ain't never been nothing else. And what was fortunate from my standpoint, the times I came along, the personalities I was around, the people that helped me and stuff, it was's gradual deal. It wasn't a deal where you didn't do anything one year and you come out and win 10 or 12 races next year or a championship or something like that.
It grew and I grew up with NASCAR and I grew up with the way -- the times have changed in the world, and I grew up in a time and place that time has changed in racing, and it just kept adding on day after day after day and it just built in to what it is now.
I never sat there and said, look what you've done or look what you've been able to accomplish, because it was a deal that was just moving all the time. That one year we won ten races in a row, we won one, won two, done that before, won three or four, and by the time you won the fifth or sixth race, you wasn't trying to add any more, because as quick as that race was over, you're saying, where are we going to run next and what do we need to do to win that race? You didn't really get involved in it until it was all over with it and then you look back on it.

Q. When you look back on it, what do you think of your career?
RICHARD PETTY: I just think I was a lucky son of a gun to be born at the right place at the right time under the right circumstances with a little bit of talent and a lot of talented people around me to put me in a position to be where I'm at today.

Q. You've got to be pretty happy to have Bobby Labonte locked into a long-term contract. Talk about that and what does it mean to have a driver like that on your race team?
RICHARD PETTY: Well, we're glad we got Bobby all squared away. He was a little nervous there for a while, and then when we got new partners with our new people, Boston Ventures, then, you know, I think he was going to stay anyway, but just an over-the-top deal.
But right now, he's our building block and is somebody that is a very steady and competitive deal to build around and now we'll say, okay, Bobby, you're our building block and you're in here for the long term so you don't have to worry about losing your mind from that standpoint.
So no matter if somebody comes in and starts beating and you stuff, you're here. So I think that gives him confidence that now he'll work with whoever we bring in, whether it's a younger driver, older driver to try to help the whole team, because it most likely will be his last drive. So he's going to have to look at it from the standpoint that he's got to build his future around and help Petty Enterprises build their future around him. So he's depending on them us and we're depending on him and looking to go forward with him.

Q. How is your relationship going with your new financial partner and also your move to the Charlotte area?
RICHARD PETTY: Good. We're doing good with that part of it. The deal is it's a new venue. It's a new venue for them and a new venue for us. So we have to get our arms around two does what, how do we get our sponsorships in, how do we get our sponsors all lined up and how do we get the crews all lined up.
So I don't see us having a major impact on anything outside right now, as far as seeing the car doing better or any of that kind of stuff. I think it's kind of a deal where we have to sort of sit back and look and say, okay, what do we need now to go forward. We've got this, this, that, that, this driver and whatever, and sit down and say, okay, what's your next move in order to get more competitive with what we're doing.
So it's just going to take a little while for Boston Ventures to sort of learn the racing business. They are in the financial business. They work on that end of it. But when it comes to how we operate business in racing, it operates a little bit different than what your regular businesses operate.
So there's a lot of give and take in racing than if you was just keeping a set of books and looking at the numbers. Our numbers are how we finish at the racetrack. So those are the things we have to start sitting down and figuring out the best way to go with it.

Q. Is there any driver from this generation that you would have liked to have competed with?
RICHARD PETTY: I didn't like to compete with any of them guys. I liked to beat them. You know, there's probably two or three of the drivers that's running today that probably could have come back and have been pretty competitive in -- what do they call, it days gone by or whatever it is.
And there's a few of the drivers that I came up with, like the Pearsons and the Allisons and the Yarboroughs that could have competed with the guys today. So there's always that little crossover there that some of the guys that make it -- you know, it's just a different ballgame out there now from the standpoint of how these guys approach it, the equipment they have, the backing that they have from the sponsors, the whole deal. It's really the hard -- it's like comparing apples and oranges; it's hard to really stay on that deal.
Yeah, I would have liked to have been in my prime right today and been in a car that was capable of winning races and go out and race with these guys, and so would Pearson and Allison and Yarborough.

Q. Going into today, it seems like the biggest challenge for owners is getting up to four teams. Is Petty Enterprises looking at four teams or going to three teams yet, or is that further down the road?
RICHARD PETTY: That's further down the road. That's going to be one of our building blocks. That's the reason with Bobby, we can use that as the No. 1 team right now, and then we can work on the 45 car with Kyle's and all that kind of deal. And hopefully in the near future we'll be able to break out the third car and whether we run it all the time or not just a little bit to get ourselves into that mode. Yeah, if four is the norm, that's the way we've got to go -- (static predominates) -- we've got to learn to take care of another team or two more teams.
So we were maxed out and we've got to look to the future here. We went and made that move before it ever got very serious with Boston ventures so Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises sat down with Kyle and said: Okay, we're going to have to do something, show some kind of progress here so, that was our first move. That was the hardest move that I've probably ever made as a company operation.
And then when it came to talking to Boston ventures about bringing in a new partner, then that was a lot easier decision to make because we had already made commitments to go forward anyway and the investment was our next forward move.

Q. What would you like the fans to think of in the celebration and the historical moment in your career; what do you want the fans to think of or do?
RICHARD PETTY: You look at it from the standpoint that you would like the fans to know that hey, you've been here and done that and you're still here.
From the standpoint of being able to accomplish a lot of the things with Petty Enterprises all these years, and really, it's more of a situation that let's the majority of these people that are new fans, drivers or whatever, owners or whatever, look back and see what really helped build the sport. I came along with a bunch of other guys that helped build the sport
It was sort of like when they ran the very first race, it was like planting a seed, okay, and then the tree started growing.
I grew with it a little bit and then the branches go out.

These guys now are taking advantage of what a lot much the people did way back and this is just a reminder that, hey, you guys didn't get here by yourselves. There was a lot of people that really helped get you here and for them to look back at the history and say -- hey, we appreciate what you and the Pearsons and the Allisons and the Yarboroughs and Bakers have done over the years just to get us in a position to go do what we want to do.
I guess from the fan standpoint and driver standpoint, that's what I would like to see, sort of a reminder that, hey, it isn't always this easy.

Q. How would you like to be remembered by everybody down the road?
RICHARD PETTY: I've been asked that question a lot of times and the main deal is that they remember you, whether you was good, bad or whatever. If you were remembered, then that's about all you can expect.

Q. You've pretty much grown with NASCAR for the last 50 years and when you look at it through your eyes, all of the changes up to the Car of Tomorrow, what are some of the more significant changes in your opinion that helped shape what NASCAR is today?
RICHARD PETTY: There's so many different people, so many different things involved over a period of years. I think I'm looking at NASCAR from 1949, 1959, it started with the Super Speedway deal; that gave us a lot of credit that we were running something besides, you know, horse racetracks or fairgrounds and stuff.
So that move through that era with a little bit of growth, and just a step at a time and RJR when the Winston brand got involved in 1971 and then in 1972 they cut the schedule back, we was running 47 or 48 races a year, and they cut it back to 28 races and started running 250-mile races or bigger. We went to old-time stuff into the new era and we were lucky enough in '72 to get STP as a sponsor, okay, and that was the first nationwide sponsor that was really coming into the Cup racing.
Between RJR and SPT, the first thing you knew, people in New Hampshire knew about us and people in Wisconsin and people in Texas or whatever, because we were like pre-advertised, okay. So we were thrown out there and the people just had heard about it, and then it come along with a little TV and then come along out there with a big TV deal and put us out there in everybody's deal and then they started building racetracks in other parts of the country, Chicago, Kansas City, Phoenix, all around. So first thing you know, we go all around the country but we are already pre-sold because a lot of our sponsors has been using us as a nationwide sponsorship, even though the majority of the races came in the south or southeast.
So all of those things together, just a little bit at a time, just like taking one step at a time, some of the steps are two or three, you skip a couple of steps and jump up big. There's not any one thing that made anything happen. It's just a bunch of people over a period of time and a lot of them working independently just to make their part of the series better.
And as they join all together, NASCAR today is what you have.

Q. Is there anything missing from today's racing that the old NASCAR had?
RICHARD PETTY: It's really hard to say because we look at, say, us old-timers, and old-time fans, they remember their time in the sun or whatever it may be. And that's the way they remembered, that's the way they grew up with it.
But as we progressed, as the country changes, as society changes, the fans change, we've got to create something different than what our grand daddy or our dad he's think. We have to have a new show or a new situation to draw new fans, and without the fans, then, you know, we wouldn't be sitting here talking.
So we've got to say, okay, what do the fans really want to see and what do they expect NASCAR racing to be, and then we have to do everything we can to satisfy that want.

Q. And was there any point over the last 50 years that you realized that you were actually a famous guy; that Richard Petty was a famous name?
RICHARD PETTY: Not really. It was one of those deals like I said before, it came on slow. There's a little bit more publicity today than there was last week or last year or ten years ago.
The first race I run at Columbia, South Carolina, 1958, I think there was one reporter there. After they got up, we had four or five reporters that went to all of the races, no TV cameras, no on-spot interviews or none of that stuff.
So as racing grew, society grew, technology grew, and then it helped us grow. We helped it, it helped us, so everybody sort of -- they do their own thing, but it helps a lot of other things to make it all work.

Q. Driver ability probably has not changed through the racing decades but do you think today's drivers need some special skills that drivers of yesterday didn't need?
RICHARD PETTY: No, no, I don't think the skill level or the things that it took to get around the racetrack and all of this kind of stuff, I think that probably looking back that maybe the drivers of the older age, maybe adjusted to track conditions and stuff a little bit better maybe than they do today, because on the radios they keep talking to the crew chiefs that it's not loose or not sticking and no traction and the guys, say, okay, we'll fix it when you can make the next pit stop.
When we started the race, that was it. If you was in a 500-mile race, there was nothing you could do to the car. So the driver had to adapt to whatever circumstances his car was. And these guys today, they fix it before they really adapt, because there's no need to adapt to what I've got, because we're going to make a pit stop and change it and it's going to be different anyway.
Plus, a lot of these drivers now while listening to their spotters. We didn't have spotters. We didn't have radios. We had a blackboard, and you had to run down the Speedway at Daytona and try to figure out which blackboard was yours. Those were the skills that we had at that particular time. Those guys have skills to find their spotters and find out what the competition is doing. That part of it is a little bit doing.
But as far as turning that steering wheel and being able to get the most out of the car, that part has not changed.

Q. Does hard work need good luck, or does hard work need to overcome bad luck?
RICHARD PETTY: Okay. Anybody's bad luck is somebody else's good luck. I always look at it that way.
And no matter how hard you work, this is one of my daddy's deals: Okay, no matter how hard you work, you have to work for it, and you always figure that you're going to get the pluses out of it.
But the one thing that my dad said is that you work hard, you can overcome a hell of a lot of obstacles in the world, except fate and fate you have nothing to do with. You could be out five laps ahead of the racing field and say, hey, all I have to do is make one more lap and all of a sudden the engine blows or the tire goes flat or something happens, bird hits you in the windshield and you can't see where you're going.
Those are things, that's fate and you don't tempt fate but you go and do everything you can and hope fate is on your side.

Q. Things have changed so much since your days of racing, especially with the race teams. When you were out there, it was almost every man for himself. Do you ever really see the day in NASCAR that it might come down to just three or four teams and that's it?
RICHARD PETTY: It used to be we had 43 different cars and 43 different car owners, and then it swapping down and by now, I think there must be, what, 12 or 14 different owners that own all of the cars that really run right now.
I think that one of these days, NASCAR is going to come in and say, you know -- they cut it right down, right now they think, they think, to four cars; but, no matter what kind of circumstances you give people, they are going to figure ways around that.
So they go over and have satellite operations that's got four cars, or three cars or two cars, so the first thing you know, some of these teams are operating right today with six or eight cars, even though they are not all coming out of the same shop, because they have different names, different owner, different deals, and they still use the same technology.
So how NASCAR controls that, I don't know, and I don't know if they know. But it could be down -- as the racing progressed and stuff, it could come down to four or five different owners, and I don't think that would be good.
I think that even when you have a four-car team, and you've got four drivers, then they are really not team players, okay, from the standpoint, yeah, they will tell everybody what they are doing and stuff, but when they get out there and they see that flag, they are going to try to beat the other three guys. So there's no let's all hookup and run, one, two, three, four today, no, the guy ain't going to stand for that.
The other thing is we look at it from our side as a team and when you get serious with it, the team deal goes out the window.

Q. I believe I speak for all of the media people when I just say, thank you for the time you still take to do interviews, to take pictures, and even sign autographs for the fan. You are the perfect example of what courtesy and public relations is all about. Thank you so much.
RICHARD PETTY: Thank you, sir.

Q. Do you miss getting behind the wheel, and better animated voice, you or Darrell Waltrip?
RICHARD PETTY: (Laughing) he had more to say, which is natural for Darryl. He'll say more even if he asks the same questions, he'll have more to say about it than I do.
What was the first question?

Q. Do you miss the opportunity to get behind the wheel, and if you had the opportunity today, would you?
RICHARD PETTY: No, I wouldn't do it today. Even if I had a chance to go out ask run, because I think they are starting up an old-timer's race series or something, the last few races and I said no, if I'm going to run, I'm going to run with the big boys, but I'm not going to run.
I tell it like this, it would be the same way with you, if you were a fisherman, then you get all your stuff together and okay, I'm a race car driver, I get all my stuff together, I get all the team together; you get all the fishing gear together and the boat and you go tearing out on the water and you gear out and you cast, but you haven't got any bait on the end.
That's the same way I am. I do everything that I've always done; I just don't get in a car. So anybody that's a fisherman or a hunter, you get ready to go hunter, you're ready to go but you haven't got any bullets or you get ready to go play golf, you're ready to swing but you have no golf ball to hit.
I'm the same way when he look at race cars. I come, I do everything like I used to do being involved; I just don't get in the car when they say, "Drivers, start your engine."
I think I've got probably more -- I know I've got younger fans, but you've got as many fans just seeing that movie, and I was in it for about a minute and a half I think. Little kids will come up and say, hey, Mr. Strip King (ph), so it makes you feel good that you've done something that they enjoyed.
THE MODERATOR: Richard, thank you so much for your time today and congratulations on this milestone. I know it's significant.
RICHARD PETTY: Okay, thank you and thanks for all of the people that was on the line with us.



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