THOUGHTS FROM KYLE PETTY, AS HE PREPARES FOR HIS LAST START IN THE NO. 44 HOT WHEELS PONTIAC GRAND PRIX: (WILL HIS SCHEDULE SLOW DOWN AS A RESULT OF NOT RUNNING WINSTON CUP THE REST OF THIS YEAR?) "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it that...
THOUGHTS FROM KYLE PETTY, AS HE PREPARES FOR HIS LAST START IN THE NO. 44 HOT WHEELS PONTIAC GRAND PRIX:
(WILL HIS SCHEDULE SLOW DOWN AS A RESULT OF NOT RUNNING WINSTON CUP THE REST OF THIS YEAR?) "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it that way to be honest with you because even though I'm not going to run in Sunday's race, I'll be there on Sundays, so it really doesn't change my total schedule a lot. I'm still going to be at the racetrack to make sure that everything is cool with John (Andretti), everything is cool with Steve (Grissom) and everything is coming along like it should be. I just won't be driving on Sundays for the rest of this year. But who knows? Maybe I will get to the point where I'll take a Sunday off before the end of the year because that would be pretty nice - especially with the schedule that we have next year - to be able to take a few races off this year."
(WILL THIS ALLOW HIM TO SPEND MORE TIME WORKING ON THE TEAM OVERALL?) "I think it allows us a lot more time. I would have to say that I think we were naïve to think that we could switch to Dodge without it affecting our GM program this year. In a lot of ways internally it has affected our GM program. It's like being a kid at Christmas, waiting for Santa Claus to come. You know if you go to sleep and you wake up the next morning, there is going to be a surprise. But you just can't make yourself go to sleep. You can't focus on sleep. The thing for us is that we feel like that once we get to next year that it's going to be a next year. It's going to be good stuff and everything is going to be a lot better. But we need to be focusing on this year, and we just can't focus on this year. We've had a hard time focusing on this year in a lot of ways. I think that's hurt the '44' and I know it's hurt the '43' because the '43' should be a lot better. John's had a lot better year on the racetrack that what he's had finish-wise. But I think for me to step back and be able to go to the shop on Monday, and not have to worry about the driving part of it - to be able to concentrate more on the overall picture of Petty Enterprises - I think that we should be able to be a little more organized before the end of the year."
(IS HE GETTING OUT OF THE CAR BECAUSE HE HAS GIVEN UP ON THE '44' TEAM?) "No, I'm not giving up on that team in any way, shape or form. If anything, if you go back, that's been our biggest problem is that we haven't given up on the team and we just continue to make changes and we've made too many changes in a lot of ways. You put a guy in charge and then you take him and you put him somewhere else. Then you put two more guys in charge, then that doesn't work out, so you shuffle them off and you do some internal stuff. You keep shuffling and you keep trying to throw things at it to make it better and better.
"I don't look at it as giving up on the team. I think in a lot of ways - and I'll say this from a personal standpoint - in a lot of ways, I feel like I've let that team down as a driver because even when I go to the racetrack, for some reason it is a lot easier for me to focus on the '45' than it is the '44.' That's back to a personal thing. That's back to figuring Adam into the equation and his team. And I've told them that. When we run the Busch stuff and you run the Winston Cup stuff, I'm just a little more focused on the Busch stuff than I am the Winston Cup stuff, and I think that's hurt those guys."
"We brought Fred Graves in to a situation where we've missed two or three races, but I don't think that's his fault, as much as it's been my fault because at the same time we brought him in, we're running double races. We're running double races at Indy. I'm at one racetrack, he's at another racetrack. You've got Michigan. I'm in one garage area a day before and I'm focused on that car before he even gets there, so I don't look at it that way.
"For me getting out of it, I guess I looked and said, 'OK, I'm freeing this team up to be the best they can be,' because I feel like, personally, that I'm hurting them as much as anything is hurting them right now. That doesn't say a lot for me, to be honest with you. I should be able to be professional enough to focus on both of them, but emotionally I don't think I'm capable of it right now."
(HOW MUCH HAS IT MEANT TO RUN WELL IN THE '45' BUSCH CAR?) "I guess I don't look at it that way. I don't look at the end result as much as how the thing goes. Dover is a good example. We ran in the top 10, and we finished 25th. It begins to build a little confidence back in myself to say, 'OK, at least you can race somebody. You can run somewhere.' So I begin to get a little bit more confidence in myself, and what's good for me, working with a new team - even though I've known these guys, and I've worked with them with Adam - my confidence begins to build this year in that team. I get more familiar with what Chris (Hussey) does and how he approaches things and how he works on things, and how Bobby Foley does and how the guys that work on that team do, so I think my confidence level goes up a little bit. It's important to run good and we're running that car, but we're not in the points, we're not racing anything, so it's more - in a lot of ways - internal exercises. It's for us. A lot of times we go to the racetrack; it's our deal. We race. The '45' races. We'll say, 'This is what we learned this week,' and we try to apply that and look at it going into next year."
(HAS RUNNING THE '45' MADE HIM A BETTER DRIVER?) "It's easier for me to focus on the '45,' so I think it just re-focuses me. It makes me a better driver because I'm more focused on it, to be honest with you. I think that's the way I have to look at it. Am I a better driver? I don't know. Does that make you a better driver? Yeah. I think the '45' makes me a better driver because it makes me focus on what I want to happen for '45' or where I want the '45' to be as a team, to stay together and to be successful, because like I said from the very beginning: if we can make the '45' successful, then in my heart I know we have given Adam everything that we could give him to succeed. That's what I'm trying to do there."
(HAS ANYTHING CHANGED WITH REGARD TO THE FUTURE OF THE '44' TEAM?) "No, nothing has changed. Our thing was when we made the announcement in Charlotte that after Bristol I would step back and to the '45' and Steve would finish the year in the '44,' and that's where we are at right now. Those guys (the '44' team) tested at Darlington Tuesday and Wednesday. This coming Monday and Tuesday they're going to Richmond to test, so they are getting into the swing of racing with each other and testing with each other. That part hasn't changed."
"The '45' team, as far as going to Winston Cup, their focus right now is the Busch Series. The '44' is the Winston Cup (Series) and the '43' is the Winston Cup (Series), and it's up to our R&D department, and our other guys, and our fab departments to focus on the Dodge stuff. That hasn't entered the picture yet...no, it has. It has. I'm naïve to say that it hasn't because the guys are looking that way, but our focus should still be the same as it was when we made the announcement in Charlotte."
(WAS HE AWARE THAT HE HAD LOST HIS CONFIDENCE AS A DRIVER?) "No, I don't think you are ever aware of it. You hear guys that play golf - because golf is such a mental game - that they'll get into a slump and something will happen. Then all of a sudden they'll have two or three good rounds, or they'll come out of it and they didn't even realize they were in a slump. I think that's the way it was with me. You don't realize it. You're trying to get better. You're making changes. You're making changes to the car. You're making changes in personnel. You're making changes in people. You're moving stuff around and I don't think you realize that you work yourself into a hole sometimes until you step back from it, or something gives you another focus. It's almost like going on vacation. You don't realize you were in a rut until you get to lay on the beach for a few days and then you realize, 'Oh. I've worked myself into a little bit of a routine or a little bit of a rut,' and that's the way it is. When you're able to step away from it and look at it from a different perspective, then you look back and you say, 'OK, that wasn't good. I was headed in a bad direction.'
"Adam's accident obviously changed our lives in a lot of ways. But in a lot of ways I think it changed my outlook on where I was at, too.
(IN WHAT WAYS DID ADAM CHANGE HIS OUTLOOK?) "Adam, personally, had already changed the way I looked at racing. After 20 years of driving a race car you just get jaded to you guys coming around and asking questions. You just get jaded to people wanting autographs or doing this or doing that. For Adam, it was all so new that it added an element of excitement. So to see him get excited that somebody from a TV station had done an interview or somebody had done this, or that somebody had wanted an autograph. To see the excitement that he had for that, then it gave you a new excitement for the sport. It made you look at the sport different, so that changed me there.
"Then with his death, I think again it changed the way I looked at the sport, in general. I've always said this, but I probably believe it now more than ever, that it is just a sport. It's not the end of the world. You go to Indy, you don't make the race, you go home. Big deal. I don't see that as a major problem anymore. You sit in traffic after a race. Big deal. You don't see it as a major problem. You just look at life different. You look at a lot of things different - not only the sport. You just look at a lot of things different. That's why I say the decision for me to go from a Winston Cup ride and to step back and drive a Busch car, I didn't see as a major deal."
"It was just something that I personally wanted to do. It was a personal thing and I really didn't care what anybody else thought, or the way it went. It wasn't that kind of deal. A lot of people say, 'Oh man, how did you step out of Winston Cup? Why would you give up that ride? Why wouldn't you just do both?' I say, 'I don't know. Why would I? Why would I stay doing both of them?' I didn't see the need to do both, and I felt like for the bigger picture, we needed to do something else.
"I just think it totally changes the way you look at a lot of things - as minute as traffic at a racetrack to fans and the media and a lot of things."
(ON THE PROSPECT OF A PETTY NOT DRIVING IN 10 YEARS) "I'll worry about that when that happens. I'll look at that. We were talking the other day about a lot of stuff and about some expansion and doing some stuff. Sometimes you sit back and you say, 'Oh, you're biting off a big chunk to do this or to do that.' Then you step back and you say, 'Well, we've been here 50 years, so you might as well bite it off for another 20 years.' You figure the sport is going to be here and it's going to continue to grow. If you go to Petty Enterprises and you look at it and you say, 'In '65 we had this building and in '75 we were this big and in '85 we were this big and in '95....' You can see the numbers in the concrete where you poured new concrete. You can see the expansion and how the sport has grown.
"Looking at Petty Enterprises, I think we have to look at it as - to use another team in motorsports on a totally different level, on a totally different scale -- to use Ferrari as a team. Even when Enzo died, they continue on. There's not a Ferrari running the plant, there's not that deal. But it's still Ferrari. Petty Enterprises will always be Petty Enterprises no matter who drives there."
(IS IT ASKING TOO MUCH OF HIMSELF TO BE IN CHARGE OF SO MUCH AND STILL DRIVE?) "No, I don't think it is, I really don't. We are Petty Enterprises. What makes Petty Enterprises Petty Enterprises was Lee Petty and Richard Petty and Kyle Petty and Adam Petty, or whatever. That makes Petty Enterprises Petty Enterprises. To come to Petty Enterprises and go to work, we feel like people that work there become part of our family and part of who we are. You either have our philosophy on life and have our philosophy of the way things work, and it's a way of doing things and a way of seeing things. To some degree, I think I can't go somewhere and hire a CEO or a CFO or a COO and bring them in, because they are going to run it like a business, and we don't run it like a business. We run it like Petty Enterprises because it's a family thing. If I had a family farm and I brought in a bunch of bean counters and stuff, they would tell me, 'Nope. We're not going to plow that field this year. We can't plant this. We've got to do that.' They are going to rearrange. I've been doing this farming for 50 years, and this is what we know that works. Now, there may be better ways, but you can't just come in and wipe the slate clean. For us and for where this sport is at right now, the sport may be in a transition period where it's going from the guys that participate in the sport and know the sport and are part of the sport and understand the sport running it, to people that are outside that really don't look at it that way - something totally different."
"But, no, I don't think it was too much to ask to look after it because basically you're looking after your house. You don't have somebody else come in and pay your bills and do your stuff at home. They way we look at it, this is our house, and we have to keep it in order the best way we can."
(DID ADAM'S DEATH CHANGE THE RELATIONSHIP HE HAS WITH RICHARD?) "I think my grandfather's death changed the way my father looked at things, more so than Adam's death changed the way I looked at things. I don't think our relationship really changed. But I do think that my grandfather's death really affected my father a lot more than what he has let on, and a lot more than what you see in public, just because they were an incredibly close family. It was just my grandfather, and my grandmother and my uncle Maurice and my father, and obviously they had been through a lot with my uncle having polio at an early age, my grandfather's accident at Daytona and some of the things that my father had gone through. I think for that group growing up, they had been through so much, at some point in time you almost begin to believe that you are invincible. To have my grandfather die like that, to go into the hospital and it not be a serious matter and then become a serious matter, I think shook them pretty hard. So I think it changed the way he looked at, not only myself, but my three sisters and my mother and his brother and his mother and all that. I think it changed his core a little bit."
(ON HIS FAMILY'S RELIGIOUS FAITH) "I don't think you got through this without your faith in God, and without a strong a faith in God. I'm not talking about a casual acquaintance. I'm talking about, and we have made the statements before and I know Adam had made the statement that every night we, as a family, would pray together in our bedroom. And we did, and we still do with Montgomery Lee and with Austin. I think that's been the heart of everything.
"I think you could look back and you could say, 'Well, it's been a hard year.' You could look at a lot of different things that have happened and you could be bitter about it. But you don't look at it that way. I don't think we look at it that way. I think for us, we looked at the 19 years that we had with Adam as a blessing to our family, not only to myself and to Patti and to Austin and Montgomery Lee, but to a lot of other people. I think Adam's life touched a lot of people, and to talk to people since that time has been a healing process for us and I think it has been a blessing for us. When you ask that question, that is an all-encompassing question. I think that you wouldn't have gotten by without it."
(DID THAT FAITH START WITH HIS PARENTS?) "More with my grandparents. We're a Southern family. That pretty much says it all right there in a lot of ways. I think my grandmothers, especially my grandmother Petty and my grandmother Owens, instilled a strong religious foundation in my parents - in my mother and in my father -- and that was just passed on to us. Hopefully at some point in time we've passed that same core of beliefs on to our children and they'll pass it on again."
(WILL THIS BE AN EMOTIONAL WEEKEND FOR THE MEMBERS OF THE '44' TEAM?) "If you had asked that six months ago the answer would've been yes. Today? No, because the guys on the '44' team now have only been on the '44' team two or three weeks. If I go back and if even if we go to the race shop right now and walk around, there are only two or three guys that still actually touch the '44' car that were there last year. We've moved people around and have changed stuff. At Indy, we sat down and since we knew we were totally rebuilding the '44' team and trying to figure out which direction we wanted to go in and what we were doing, we sat down with both pit crews and took both pit crews and said, 'OK, here's both pit crews. Let's take what we consider the guys that can work the best together and put them on a single pit crew.' We took guys off the '44' pit crew and put them on the '43' pit crew - a couple of tire changes and some of that stuff, and moved over there. Now we're rebuilding the '44' pit crew and they've jumped up and they're as quick as the '43' is right now. We felt like we were giving the '43' an opportunity to get better instantly just by an influx of people. The guys that we had waiting in the wings to jump in have done the same. It goes all the way through to the pit crew. It's changed. The truck driver is changed. When you walk into Bristol this weekend the only two guys that started the season with me working on the '44' is the guy that is in charge of our tires, Seth (Jenkins), and Jeff Adams, who looks after the motor tuning at the racetrack. They're the only two guys that started the season with the '44', so I don't think it's an emotional deal for them."
(ON HIGHLIGHTS AS HE LOOKS BACK AT HIS TIME IN THE '44') "For me - I don't know. It's two-fold. From the time I started driving I wanted to drive the '44.' That was the number I wanted. Obviously I couldn't have that number because Billy Hagan had it with Terry (Labonte) for awhile and then I went somewhere else and drove the '21' and the '7' for the Wood Brothers, and then I went to Felix (Sabates) and he wanted the '42' so we ended up with the '42.' But the '44' number was the number that I wanted because my grandfather drove '42' and my father drove '43' and the '44' was the number that I wanted to run. So when I started my own team, in '97 with pe2, that was the number that we took. To go back a little bit, Hot Wheels wanted number 1. That was part of their 'Pro Racing Line.' But I didn't want a number 1. I wanted number '44' because, for me, that brought me to where I felt like personally I wanted to be in the continuum of where our numbers had been.
"For me to step out of the '44' and to just get away from that number, even though we're still at Petty Enterprises and I'm still there, is a little sad for me because I never won a race in the '44.' But at the same time I don't look at it that close because emotionally, through Adams death, I've been tied closer to the '45.' It means more to me then the '44' number. Then you get back and they're just numbers, but this is more of a personal thing. And now I look at the plus-side of that and I say that for me, then my grandfather drove '42,' my father drove '43,' and I drove a '44' for Petty Enterprises and will continue the tradition of Adam's stuff with the '45.' That's kind of the way I look at it, just to continue that part of it. It's not huge, but it is something that I thought about."
(ON HIS SPONSORSHIP SITUATION FOR NEXT YEAR) "We're just looking for a primary for the '44.' As far as our associate stuff with all three cars, we've got all of our packages put together. Hot Wheels basically came off as a major sponsor on the '44' and became a major associate package on all three teams. For us to continue the '44' like we want to, like a lot of other teams, we're looking for a primary sponsor for the '44.'"
(IS HE SURPRISED PATTI IS SPEAKING PUBLICLY AT THIS TIME?) "Not really. Patti has been really quiet about everything. In a lot of ways she is a lot stronger than I will ever be. Obviously I grew up in racing. I grew up with a grandfather that raced and my father raced. I've been around race cars and racing people all my life. For her, her father owned a paint store. We joke about it, but she grew up a civilian and we were something totally different. For her to come in to this sport and to lose a child to the sport is incredibly hard. It's just not something she grew up with. I am not saying you could ever be prepared to lose a child. That's the most tragic thing that could ever happen to anybody, I'm about convinced. But to not be a part of the sport and then to be thrown into the sport and then lose a child, she's had to be incredibly strong. I think her faith has gotten her through a lot of it. Talking to Kenny Irwin's parents, that was hardest part for me to talk to them about was that they just hadn't grown up in the sport either. Then their son went off to be in the sport and was killed, and that incredibly hard for them to understand why. That's been Patti's deal was to understand why and how and stuff. She's been quiet for so long that I'm sure she has thought about it a lot. For me talking about Adam is part of the healing process, and it really is. For her, I think she has probably come to that point personally in her life that she is willing to talk to other people besides me or to her family or to somebody else about it."
(HOW ARE AUSTIN AND MONTGOMERY LEE DOING?) "Really good. I say that with an amazing amount of comfort that they are doing really well. Austin went to work at a camp all summer in Florida called the Boggy Creek Gang Camp, and it's for critically ill children. He was a lifeguard there. What it's for is, it's part of the Paul Newman Group and what happens is each week they bring in a different group of kids that have different illnesses. One week you'll have hemophiliacs, and every kid at camp is a hemophiliac. Next week, you might have sickle cell kids. One week you have kids with severe epilepsy. They had an AIDS group that came through; they have (a) leukemia (group). The point is that as all the kids sit around like this they all have the same disease. They're not special. They're not different. They're all taking the same medicine. They all speak the same language. They all know the same pills. They all do the same stuff. I think the first week Austin was there he was a lifeguard. The first week was epilepsy week, and like the second day there a little boy had an attack in the pool and Austin had to jump in and pull the little boy out. I think that helped Austin deal with Adam. To be around children like that that face death, basically, on a daily basis and that's helped him and he's come back from camp a lot stronger person because of it."
"Montgomery Lee, being 14, instantly when it happened and we came back and we talked about everything, within a couple of weeks she was able to put it in a place in her head and in her heart, and kind of store it, I guess, and she came to terms with it pretty quick. There are times when things are said or something will come up that will shake her a little bit. But she's 14, and I guess kids put it in perspective a lot quicker."
(HOW IS HE DOING?) "Pretty good. You have good days, you have bad days. I'll be honest, when I saw a video on him it knocked me back about four days, and it still does. If I was to see the video right now, then it hurts a lot. It's been three months. I don't think there are ever good days, but there are days when it's not as bad. At the same time, being back around racing and being back around the race cars and being in the cars and stuff to me is a healing process. I look at it that way. But at the same time it's the one thing that brings him back to life every time, too. It brings Adam and puts him right back in front of you every time. It's almost a double-edge sword sometimes to show up at certain tracks and certain places. It's a little bit harder this week because he was crazy and he liked this place. He just liked to come here. He liked the racetrack. He liked to watch the races here, and he liked to run the races here. To come to places that I know he just got excited about coming to, then I think about that leading up to the races. You think about it during the week. We used to talk about going to this racetrack, or doing this or doing that, so it makes it a little harder sometimes."
(WHAT WOULD ADAM HAVE DONE LEADING UP TO THIS RACE?) "He'd have been on the computer every night this week racing, running Bristol, and getting ready. He liked coming here. He got in a wreck the first race here, I guess, on the first or second lap and he was mad for two weeks because he knew he could just run good here. It was just one of those racetracks that he came into that he had confidence. He had run the ASA series and they had run Winchester and Salem and some of those places, and he liked those places and he had run good there. So when he came here, he just liked to come here, and he had always liked to come here from the time he was little, just because he liked to watch the races. There's 10 million other fans in the world that like to come here, too, and watch the races."