Richard Petty interview 2001-05-28

RICHARD PETTY (Car owner Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/Ts) NOTE: Petty won three NASCAR Winston Cup championships (1972, '74 and '75) and 37 of his record 200 victories in a Dodge. Petty now owns three Dodge Intrepid R/T teams with...

RICHARD PETTY (Car owner Petty Enterprises Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)

NOTE: Petty won three NASCAR Winston Cup championships (1972, '74 and '75) and 37 of his record 200 victories in a Dodge. Petty now owns three Dodge Intrepid R/T teams with his son, Kyle Petty, in the No. 45 Sprint Intrepid, John Andretti in the No. 43 Cheerios Intrepid and Buckshot Jones in the No. 44 Georgia-Pacific Intrepid. Andretti scored Dodge's best finish of the season with a runner-up showing at Bristol, but Andretti failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600 last week at Lowe's Motor Speedway. For the fifth time in 12 events, Kyle Petty failed to qualify at Charlotte and Jones had missed the two previous races before qualifying 13th and finishing 27th in the Coca-Cola 600. Andretti, who had moved to 16th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings (NWCS) after his second straight top 10 finish at Bristol, dropped three positions to 32nd after failing to start at Charlotte. Jones is ranked 39th, and Kyle Petty is 44th after one-third (12 of 36) of the events on the 2001 schedule. Petty talks about his teams and offers some interesting opinions about NASCAR as the Level Cross legend approaches his 64th birthday on July 2.

"We thought we were getting better, but right now we're not better. Two of our three cars didn't make the 600, and that's pretty bad. John usually makes up the difference enough to get in, but they weren't good last week and they went back home and did a bunch of work and they weren't no better this week, either. Buckshot was a little better last week even though they crashed his car. He came back with a new car, but it's basically the same car as what he had.

"He got a good lap in qualifying. The first lap wasn't too good and then he came back and got in a good lap (started 13th in Coca-Cola 600). Kyle and them just never practiced good. They were 40th all night long. We cut it and dissect it and look at it, and we're a little off in a lot of different places. We're a little off on the motor, a little off on the chassis, a little off on the body. Add all that up, and you're a half second slow and you don't make the race.

"We can't pinpoint any one thing. You've already done everything you think you're supposed to do. Now you've just got to go back and start over. You work on the body and cut 'em up. You work on the chassis, and the motor guys are always working. We just ain't got a good combination. It's not the motor people's fault. It's not the chassis people's fault. It's not the driver's or the crew's fault. It's a combination. All of us are not doing what's right, and what it is we're not doing right, I don't know. We're frustrated with it right now. Four or five weeks ago, we thought we had a handle on it. We were down, and we kept getting better and better, not that much, but enough we could see it.

"We thought we were in pretty good shape. Then we went to Richmond and Buckshot didn't make it. Kyle ran decent, and John crashed his car and right after the race started, he got in another crash. You never could tell what he could do. We came to Charlotte for the Winston Open, and Buckshot got in two different scraps and neither one of them was his fault. John and Kyle didn't run good, either. We just ain't there. It's not that we ain't spending the money or doing the testing. We're doing all the right things except coming up with the right answers. We keep changing stuff, but we ain't changing the right stuff yet.

"We've got body designs and engine designs and stuff like that. Everybody (Dodge teams) takes their stuff and goes home and does their own little thing, which is a natural deal. We run into a problem of motors or chassis or bodies, then we talk to the other people and try to get together with the big stuff. They don't ask us what we're doing here, and we don't ask them what they're doing there, but we're working together on the major stuff enough to make the cars work. We all got together and decided we'd like to have a rule change deal, and everybody agreed on the same stuff. Two or three different ones tested it and said that's the way we need to go. The big stuff is still an open book. Dodge couldn't be more cooperative as far as 'what can we do to help?' We just don't know. If we knew what the problem was, then we could go work on that problem, but there's just a bunch of little things that keep the whole program from coming together. We talk to everybody in the shop. We talk to the drivers. We talk to the motor people and chassis people. Nobody has said if we change this it's going to take care of everything. We're not in that deal. We're just a little off everywhere."

HOW HAS DALE EARNHARDT'S DEATH AFFECTED NASCAR?

"I don't see any difference. I don't see any enthusiasm gone from my side of the fence. The sponsors, the crews, everybody goes right on. There's nobody important enough to stop everything. You might think about it, but you just go right on and do your thing. The press is keeping something alive that we just need to go ahead and bury. I hate to say it in a hard-hearted way, but the sun keeps coming up and the sun keeps going down and the world keeps on. Out of respect for yourself and fellow men, you're going to think about it and mourn a little bit, but you've got to leave it alone and go on."

IS THERE A DOMINANT DRIVER IN THE SPORT NOW?

"There is a dominant driver. It just ain't showing up, but it is if you cut through the crap. Jeff Gordon got off to a slow start, but he finished second at California and Richmond. He won The Winston and would have been hard to beat in the 600 if he had got into trouble on pit road. Even when Earnhardt was here, Jeff was still the dominant driver. If you cut through all the stuff last year, Bobby Labonte was the man. The year before that it was Dale Jarrett. It goes and comes. Even though they're right there beating on it all the time, they're not the dominant deal except through having all the fans and press. That keeps 'em on the same level even though they don't win. That's good from the standpoint of the whole racing fraternity. You've got to have a lead dog. You've got to have somebody out there for everybody to shoot at.

"Look at golf. When Palmer and Nicklaus won everything, you read all about it. When they went off the board, there was a different winner every week and you don't even pay attention to who is winning. Tiger Woods comes along and rejuvenates the sport. Go to pro basketball. It was a flat thing and along comes Michael Jordan. He lifts it from a mediocre deal into a great big deal. Racing has been the same way. It gets in a lull and somebody will come along. There's always somebody to pick it up and keep it going. With Earnhardt, he was regular and had a lot of following. Everybody judged everything off of him. He really didn't win that many races. He wasn't that dominant of a driver. He was an exciting driver to watch whether he was running 10th or 13th or leading the race, but he wasn't that dominant when you really get down to it. The races he ran against Cale Yarborough or Bobby Allison or Darrell, he was just OK. He was not a standout when you came to that part of it, but he met the criteria the fans wanted in excitement. They could bond to him. That's what carried him.

"There's not a charismatic person like Earnhardt out here now. Gordon is not that kind of person. Gordon was like Earnhardt. It's a love-hate deal. The people that didn't like Earnhardt or his ways or his ways of doing things, they could go with Gordon because Gordon is the smooth part of everything that was the rough part about Earnhardt. Different fans out there look for different things. Gordon is more of a middle road guy. He doesn't cause a lot of trouble. He gets in a spat now and then but nothing he really Monday, May 28, 2001. Advance material for MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover Downs International Speedway. Dodge notes and quotes. Page 3. creates. I came along with the crowd I came along with and there really wasn't a bad guy in the crowd. From time to time we could all get bad, but as a whole, they were pretty upstanding. It worked. It took it from one level and put it in another level. Earnhardt picked it up from there and took it to another level. Somebody else will pick it up and take it to another level, whoever it might be. It might be Gordon because Gordon to me is the head honcho.

"I look at Rusty. He came in and just filled some gaps from time to time. To my way of thinking, he's not took it and took it to another level. He's ridden along in that level. He needed to be there. Mark Martin needed to be there to keep things going. If Earnhardt or Gordon hadn't been there, then Rusty and Mark would have had to carry it. I don't know if they could have carried it as quick and as far as the ones that did.

"You've got Bobby (Labonte) who runs good and wins races, but he's not an exciting driver as far as bringing people in. Tony Stewart can fill that gap because he gets in some scraps from time to time. You've got to look at the 26 driver. He just doesn't have the personality or the way he handles himself just doesn't turn people on. Some people's personality radiates. Others might have just as good a personality or you feel like they do when you talk to them or see them around, but they don't radiate and bring people in. There's nothing you can do about that. Kyle don't win races, but he radiates. John can win races, but he don't radiate. That's just the way it is. You have different talents with different personalities and it's hard to put the talent and the personality and the whole package together. If Kyle won races, he'd blow 'em all away, I think. If he could go out and win three or four races a year... Nobody really hates him. He's sort of middle of the road. My personality sort of fit in the middle of the deal. I'd get in fights from time to time and rough deals, but nobody ever said I was a dirty driver, well, some of them did, but not many.

"Kyle has so much on his plate. We're starting a new team, new deal with Dodge. He's trying to organize it like we think it needs to be organized for that big of an operation. Then the Adam deal is always the shadow deal. He's got mixed emotions, and he's trying to drive the car and keep all the other drivers happy and keep the sponsors happy. Every time you see him he's on a different deal, but it's all pertaining to what we've got to get done. You talk to him one time, and he's just got through talking to the motor shop. The next time I see him, he's talking about wind tunnel results or new transmissions or something. He's trying to keep up with too much, but he feels like that's what he needs to do. To me, that helps him with the Adam deal. He keeps himself as busy as he can even though he's not getting done what he wants done. He'll keep working and it'll come. Nothing comes easy."

YOU'RE ABOUT TO TURN 64 AND YOU'RE OUT RIDING FOUR WHEELERS AND MOTORCYCLES. WHAT'S THE DEAL?

"We probably rode about three hours or more with the press on some four wheelers and six wheelers the other day. We never went on the same trail twice. We've got about 12 or 14 miles of trails behind the house. It goes up and down around the creek. Half of it we didn't even go to. I do it every chance I get. Some of it is straight up and straight down. We took 'em on the beginner's trail and then we went down the middle of the place. They had a big time. We must have had 25 people. We're going to do part of the motorcycle ride back from California with Kyle in June. You just keep doing something. I try to keep up with the shop deal. When they can't get anywhere with anybody else, they call me. We're trying to put the organization together. We've got some good people, and we've got some people we're going to have to replace, just like any other business."

"You've got to have a core group before you can go out with the rest of the people. When we used to run the deal, we had one race car and we didn't have all this technology like you've got to have today. It was me, Dale Inman and Chief (brother Maurice Petty). If you talked to one, the other two would go along with it. We didn't have meetings. As we worked on the car, we'd talk about what we were going to do the next week. It was a small core of people. We had 10 of 12 people helping us and that was it. Now, you've got core people working on the race cars, but you've got so many people working on pieces bringing it in and ordering and all this stuff in order for the core people to have the stuff to work with. It's got away from us, and we're just trying to get organized. We figured we haven't been that good the last eight or 10 years. We cleaned out the shop and started with new stuff and a new organization. We grew into a big organization without the inner workings growing. Some of our programs or directions need to be changed. We'll keep changing until we get it right. Every once in awhile you think you see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then you don't make the race and you don't think you're getting there. We can't divert too far from our program, because if the first-year program doesn't go, the second and third-year deals won't go, either. We're just one-third of the way through the season. I guess we've got 24 points races left, so we can't afford to change direction too much in midstream because really, we're not in midstream just yet."

-MOPAR

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kyle Petty , Buckshot Jones , Richard Petty , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin , Maurice Petty