Kyle Petty Talks About Upcoming Rolex Series Race Part 1 of 2 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 25, 2004) -- Kyle Petty announced on Tuesday that he will return to the Rolex Sports Car Series in the Phoenix 250 at Phoenix International Raceway, April...
Kyle Petty Talks About Upcoming Rolex Series Race
Part 1 of 2
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 25, 2004) -- Kyle Petty announced on Tuesday that he will return to the Rolex Sports Car Series in the Phoenix 250 at Phoenix International Raceway, April 10. Petty took the time out of his day on Wednesday to talk to members of the media about his return to the Rolex Sport Car Series, as well as his other racing and charity ventures.
Petty will co-drive the Gunnar Racing No.45 Porsche GT3 RS in the GT class with teammate Gunnar Jeannette. The Phoenix 250 can be seen live on SPEED Channel at 9 p.m. ET on April 10 with a 6 p.m., local Phoenix start time.
Q: It's a rare off weekend from the NEXTEL CUP series, but you have already gone on the record in stating that you are looking forward to racing in the Phoenix Rolex Sports Car Series round. It sounds like you enjoy sports car racing quite a bit. What is the attraction?
Kyle Petty: I just love road racing, that's how simple it is. From the time I was 18 or 19 starting at Riverside with the NEXTEL CUP cars, I've just enjoyed doing it. Since we only do two road races a year, I try to race in every opportunity I get. I've been pretty blessed to run with Orbit Racing in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona in the past, and at Watkins Glen since it was in conjunction with the NEXTEL CUP and in July in conjunction with NEXTEL CUP (at Daytona). I keep looking for something different on the off weekends. We do our charity ride across America on one of the off weekends. We only have three. Motorcycles are on one of those weekends, so that takes one away. When the Easter thing came up, the Grand American cars were out there, so it gave me the opportunity to run a road course at a place I've never been before. And to be hooked up with Gunnar Racing, he's a great kid and to be back with Jeannette Racing and that crowd, it was pretty special. I'm looking forward to it.
Q: Gunnar is among the youngest drivers, if not the youngest at 21 years old. He's already an accomplished driver. It's a good-looking car and a good-looking team. You did run in the Daytona Prototype category at the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona. At Phoenix you'll be running the GT car. Talk about the Porsches. They seem like they are a lot of fun to drive.
KP: It's an incredible car. The Porsches and that class are incredible class and incredibly competitive. We stepped up and ran the Prototype, and I love the Prototype. That's the future of road racing as far as I'm concerned in the country right now. It brings some close racing, incredibly close racing, to road racing. I think that's the one thing I love about NEXTEL CUP racing. It's door-to-door, nose-to-tail, lap after lap after lap. With the Prototypes last year for the first time, there were only four, it was pretty good racing. When you come down this year, there are 15-16 cars. I think it shows the health of the series. To be back in the GT car, it's a lot of fun. You never know who you are racing with. The guys run wide-open lap after lap. I think they run harder than everybody else. We did pretty good last year at Watkins Glen, and I've run some classes there. To be back in the class, and with this car, it's going to be a lot of fun.
Q: As Kyle just mentioned, he did finish second-place in class with Gunnar Jeannette, and with another young driver named Paul Newman at Watkins Glen last year in the GTS class. That was a good showing there, and you've won a race when you co-drove with John Andretti a couple of years ago. You've had seven career starts in the Rolex Sports Car Series and this will be your eighth start at Phoenix. We had an action packed race down in Homestead. We're going to have the same amount of cars, or very close to it at Phoenix, with one less mile of racetrack. What are you going to be thinking when the green flag drops with of your closest friends out there?
KP: With 40 plus cars running that kind of race, it's going to be like us at Bristol. To tell you the truth, everybody is going to be on top of each other all day long no matter what. I have to pay close attention to what's going on. I think what the Rolex Series had down at Homestead, that was close to Bristol, I have to give you that. I think to drop that many cars with that many speeds on the racetrack with everyone wanting to win their class and win overall, I'm looking forward to it. You talked about Gunnar and myself and Paul running at The Glen last year. Gunnar was 20, I think, at the time, I was 43 and Paul was 79, we pretty much doubled each others ages, 20-40-80 almost. We've eliminated Paul for this race, he's not coming with us and we'll miss him, but its still going to be 20-40.
Q: Did you have a knack for road racing when you started, or did you have to work hard at it?
KP: I've worked hard at it. I still work hard on it. I'm not the most proficient road racer by any means of the imagination. It challenges what you're doing. I grew up in a family that was used to oval track racing, but I always loved to watch sports car racing at the time, which was IMSA. Any time I'd go to Daytona to test in December and January, there were always sports cars racing there. I'd go look at the Porsches and Nissans and the cars there from Europe running at that time. At that time, we only had Riverside as a road course. Only running two races a year, I'm 43-years-old, I would have run only 60 or 70 road courses. It's fun. I've been to Skip Barber and tried to do as much road racing and learn as much stuff as I could. I think it makes you look at how you drive a car different. It's a lot different than NEXTEL CUP racing is, and what NASCAR is on oval track racing. A lot of stuff that I've learned there, it's helped me on a lot of the short tracks. I can't say it's helped me a lot on the big tracks. It's a challenge coming to run against the best of the best.
Q: Are you optimistic about the NEXTEL CUP program coming around?
KP: Definitely. As far as our CUP stuff, this is a far better year for finishes. We still had some horrendous luck, especially Jeff Green in the Cheerios car. It seems like every week he's been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Last year we stuck around 38th to 40th place finishes. This year things have been going good for us, somewhere between 15th and 20th. It's been a lot better year for us. It's only been five races into the season. It's a long season. It doesn't leave a lot of time to enjoy myself. That's why I'm coming to Phoenix to run the Grand American race to take a little time off and enjoy myself.
Q: Taking time off to run a road race, can you go into that. You are going back on the track during your time off.
KP: I think it's because I love driving race cars. I've always said this. I'm blessed to be able to make a living doing what I absolutely, positively love. I love to get in the car and go drive. I doesn't matter whether I'm racing NEXTEL, Busch, Truck or Grand American, for me, it is like being a professional golfer shooting a round of golf just to relax. That's the way I look at it. It's just another enjoyable race. It gives me an opportunity to spend three or four days and challenge myself physically and mentally on a totally different type of circuit with a totally different level of drivers who are the best of the best in the world. It gives me an opportunity to run and relax, and it hopefully makes a better race car driver out of me.
Q: Have you been able to see the setup at PIR yet?
KP: I sure have not. To be totally honest in all the years I've run out there, I've never paid attention to the infield. It was a place I never wanted to be in a NEXTEL CUP car, in the road course running in the infield. To look at that place and to figure out where the road course is, and how it works, it will be totally new to me. I think I'm going to have to talk to the other drivers of the series. They help a lot. When I talk to the other drivers, who have been out there and seen the place, I can understand more about it, and maybe it will give me a heads up.
Q: You keep coming back to sports car racing. Have you considered giving ownership a thought, or are you having too much fun racing?
KP: I have definitely considered it. I would love to own a Grand American car and run in the Rolex Series. I would love to start a team. We've toyed with the idea for 12-18 months, if I can get the NEXTEL stuff put together and get it stabilized, that's the next thing on our plate. I've talked to a couple of people to run a Prototype. To set it up so I can put in a guy like Gunnar or put a young guy in it to give them an opportunity to run for a championship, and then come along myself as I step out of NEXTEL CUP racing and be able to run part time or run a few races. I've been a sports car fan my entire career. I love road racing, I love sports car racing. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never had the opportunity to do it. Now as one part of my career begins to change from driver into team ownership at Petty Enterprises, I would like to have a Grand American car and to start a team there. And then 15-20 years later, have a NEXTEL car and a Grand American car, and move on down from there and still be able to drive it every now and then.
Q: On your Phoenix car, it's the No. 45. That of course corresponds to Petty Enterprises, but that also corresponds to the number that Adam Petty carried. Any connection there?
KP: Oh yeah. The 45 is Adam's number. I've always said that. I was in a thing yesterday and somebody asked me about it. If you look over the door on the car that I run, I don't have my name on the car because the way I look at it, when Adam had his accident, I got out of my car, the 44, and into the 45. That was Adam's car; we left it exactly as it was. I told everyone that year I was a fill-in driver for Adam. That's the way I look at it right now. I'm still a fill-in driver for the 45 team. I'm just taking Adam's place for a few years. For me, anytime I see the No. 45, that's whose car it is. Adam, my middle-son Austin and myself, we went down to Skip Barber on a couple occasions and had more fun at New Hampshire, Lime Rock and places like that running around road courses chasing each other. Those are fond memories. So to be able to run the No. 45 in the GT division is special to me.