Petty Family Comes Home With Switch to Dodge in 2001 FONTANA, Calif., April 25, 2001 - On his way to becoming the King of stock car racing, Richard Petty drove many cars. His favorites? The Dodge Chargers of the early 1970s. For many veteran...
Petty Family Comes Home
With Switch to Dodge in 2001
FONTANA, Calif., April 25, 2001 - On his way to becoming the King of stock car racing, Richard Petty drove many cars. His favorites? The Dodge Chargers of the early 1970s.
For many veteran race fans, the image of Dodge and Richard Petty are inextricably linked. Mention the King and the fan sees a Petty-blue No. 43 Dodge taking the checkered flag. They also see one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR history signing autographs, wearing his trademark cowboy hat, shades and smile.
"No matter where I went all the years I drove some other cars, people associated me with Dodge and with Chrysler Corporation," says Petty. "Even though I drove something else for 18 years, it didn't make any difference, I was still a Dodge man. Petty Enterprises was supposed to be running Dodges, they weren't supposed to be running anything else."
Petty says the 1972, 1973 and 1974 Dodges were probably the best all-around race cars he ever had. "It ran good on a road course, a superspeedway, a short track - it didn't make any difference, it was a very balanced car. You could get it to work anywhere. Some cars are good on short tracks, some are good on road courses, some are better on superspeedways. This was a real universal car."
Petty won 37 Winston Cup races and two of his seven Winston Cup championships - 1974 and 1975 - driving the Dodge Charger. His first Dodge win was the Daytona 500 in 1973, and the last was the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in July 1977.
Darrell Waltrip, known for his colorful comments then as now, finished second in the 1977 race. "I wish people would quit griping about how the rules are favoring the Chevrolets," said Waltrip at the time. "They keep saying we have an advantage. A Dodge won the pole here and Petty's Dodge blew my doors off."
While Richard Petty is best known for his victories in Dodge and Plymouth race cars, he wasn't the first in the family to win with Chrysler products. His father Lee Petty started the tradition. His first win in a Dodge was a 100-mile season-opening race in February 1953 at West Palm Beach, Fla. A crowd of 8,500 watched Lee Petty average 60.220 mph in his Dodge Diplomat, his seventh career Grand National win.
When he retired, Lee Petty was the only three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion and the all-time leader with 54 race wins. That record stood until it was surpassed by his son Richard, who went on to amass 200 Winston Cup wins, nearly double the wins of any other driver in NASCAR history.
Lee Petty participated in NASCAR's first race at Charlotte in June 1949. He drove the family car to the race and entered it in the competition. Midway through the event, he rolled it. Lee also won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, in a photo finish that took three days to decide.
"Back in the 1930s and 1940s, he always had a Plymouth or Dodge or Chrysler or something," says Richard Petty. "Then in 1949 when he started racing, he started with a 1949 Plymouth. In 1953, Dodge came with a V8, so he got himself a Dodge."
How did he feel about the Dodge return to Winston Cup racing?
"Well, really, we started working with Dodge in the truck series, and one of our forerunning thoughts was, one of these days Dodge is going to get back into Winston Cup racing, so we should go ahead now and get to know some of the people and work through the truck series. So we were with the truck series four or five years before they decided to go to the cars.
"We got to know a bunch of the engineers, the aero people," says Petty. "We got to know some of the people that we were going to work with, and so that made it an easier transition for us to go from where we were to Dodge. It was sort of like one of them deals where we get to go home, you know.
"Petty Enterprises had its heyday with Chrysler cars, either a Plymouth or a Dodge," continues Petty. "That's when they did their best; that's when they made their name; that's when Richard Petty made his name, was with Chrysler Corporation. So what better way to climb back to the top than to put (son) Kyle in, and at that particular time, (grandson) Adam was coming along and we were going make Adam from the word go in the Winston Cup, make him a Dodge person. So it was a natural procession for us to go do that deal. Then we had the accident and lost Adam, but still that's our concept."
Richard's son Kyle maintained the family tradition by driving a Dodge Magnum in his first major race - a 200-mile ARCA event at Daytona in 1979. Only 18 at the time, he won. He has since logged eight victories in Winston Cup racing.
Kyle Petty has been reunited with Dodge this season, driving the No. 45 Sprint PCS Dodge Intrepid R/T.
One of the few third-generation athletes in American sports, Kyle Petty had a variety of options for a career. As a winning athlete in high school, several colleges recruited him as a scholarship quarterback. Others talked to him about baseball. A country music career later became an option with more than one Nashville agent saying he had what it takes to make it big. But racing remained his first choice.
Today, Kyle Petty runs the day-to-day operations of Petty Enterprises, the most successful organization in motorsports history. The organization fields three full-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series teams - Petty in the No. 45 car; John Andretti in the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T; and Buckshot Jones in the No. 44 Georgia-Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T.
Kyle Petty also is excited about the return to Dodge and sees it as an opportunity to return the family enterprise to the pinnacle of stockcar racing.
"That's the goal here," he says. "All of a sudden we've got everything we've wished for and dreamed about from a technology perspective, and the sponsors we have right now with Sprint, General Mills and Georgia Pacific. We've just gotta capitalize on everything we've got right now.
"It's like that old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for; someday you might get it.' We've got it and we've just gotta capitalize on it. I think that if we learn how to utilize everything that Dodge offers us, and we listen to what Ray (Evernham) says and we listen to what Bill Davis says, and we listen to what the other teams say and learn from them, then we'll be able to get back to where we're competitive and winning races on a regular schedule."
What did Dodge bring to the teams with their return to Winston Cup? According to the Petty now leading Petty Enterprises, Dodge brought technology.
"For us and for all the Dodge teams, the one thing they bring that the other manufacturers have been reluctant to give is technology," says Kyle Petty. "Being able to access the wind tunnel, being able to access their flow dynamics technology with a lot of their computer systems and being able to replicate what's going on on a racetrack through simulation - that's been huge for us.
"What that does for all the Dodge teams is keep us from having to go to the racetracks all the time to do our testing," he continues. "We can do some of it through their engineering department. And I think they've opened up the doors there for Bill Davis Racing, for Evernham Motorsports, for Petty Enterprises, and for the rest of the Dodge teams to be able to take advantage of that.
"At the same time, we're like kids with new toys. We don't understand them yet. We've got to upgrade our staff and bring people onboard who understand what we've got and are able to utilize it more. We're just not capable of utilizing everything they're giving us right now. And I think that's the sad part, after all these years of wanting something, when you finally get it you don't know how to use it. Now we've gotta learn how to use it."
The bright spots this season for Petty Enterprises have been the second-place finish by John Andretti at Bristol, and the 16th-place finish by Buckshot Jones at Talladega. Andretti might have won the Bristol race if he didn't have to battle a damaged suspension during the closing laps.
"We were a little disappointed he didn't win," says Richard Petty, "but once we got to checking the car and stuff, we said, 'Man, he done a heck of a job to be able to just finish second with the thing.'"
Jones' finish last weekend at Talladega was first among the Dodge race cars and matched his career best in the Winston Cup Series.
"Buckshot was the bright spot of the whole weekend," says Kyle Petty. "To be the youngest member of the team and with the rookie team, to go down there and to run fairly strong and to be able to run in the top 10 and to be able to maneuver around and have a decent day, I think it was good for everyone here at Petty Enterprises. Buckshot has tons of potential. We've just gotta give him something that can maximize his potential."
This week in Dodge history:
* 4/29/56 - Buck Baker and his Kiekhaefer Dodge led all but two laps of a 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds in Richmond, Va. Baker started from the pole and only relinquished the lead during a pit stop. With the win, he also took the lead in the point standings. Herb Thomas finished second in another Kiekhaefer Dodge, followed by Speedy Thompson in a Kiekhaefer Chrysler. It was the second 1-2-3 finish of the season for the Kiekhaefer cars.
* 4/27/75 - Richard Petty overtook Darrell Waltrip with 21 laps to go and kept his Dodge Charger in front to win the Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Va. It was Petty's fifth win of the young season and gave him a 225-point lead in the championship standings. Benny Parsons won the pole and led for 87 laps before drifting back to finish sixth. Petty gave up the lead during the 452nd lap when he pitted for fresh tires. That gave Waltrip the lead and he held it until there were a little more than 10 miles remaining.