In 2001 Andy Petree finally got his wish -- twice. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner went to victory lane two times last year. Although Petree had been to victory lane 25 times in his racing career as a crew chief, he had never been on the...
In 2001 Andy Petree finally got his wish -- twice. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series car owner went to victory lane two times last year. Although Petree had been to victory lane 25 times in his racing career as a crew chief, he had never been on the checkerboard circle as a car owner. And never with a team that he has built from the ground up.
Petree got his wish by gaining his first win as a car owner when Square D driver Bobby Hamilton took the lead on the last lap and won the caution-free Talladega (Ala.) 500. Petree was so overcome with joy that he jumped on the hood of the car, slapping the window several times while Hamilton drove down pit road toward victory lane in his No. 55 Chevy.
"I can't even describe the thoughts that went through my mind at that moment when Bobby crossed the start/finish line," Petree said. "It was the greatest day for Andy Petree Racing (APR) -- a day that proved to everyone what I knew all along. My team was going to be a top contender in this sport."
Petree's excitement returned at Rockingham on November 4th, when driver Joe Nemechek and Petree's No. 33 team won the Pop Secret 400. This time he did not jump on the hood of the car, but he did get sprayed with popcorn during the victory-lane celebration.
"I was stunned that we won that race," Petree said. "When I woke up that morning in Rockingham I never dreamed that we would dominate the race that afternoon. But we did."
Once again, Petree showed the critics that his team, which had just announced a driver change for the 2002 season and was still searching for a sponsor, could beat the odds.
But Andy Petree is not a gambler. He plays his cards safe -- earning his position as a respected car owner in the Winston Cup Series. The 43-year old was brought up around racing. Born in Newton, N.C., Petree was raised listening to the race cars of Ned Jarrett, Bobby Isaac, Harry Gant and Tommy Houston roar around Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. At age 19 Petree started his career as a mechanic for a friend, John Settlemyre, a talented racer who won five consecutive track championships at Hickory Motor Speedway between 1977 and 1981.
Petree wouldn't settle for just being a mechanic. He wanted to build his own car to race at Hickory. Eventually he did with the help of friend, Jimmy Newsome. "We ran out of money before we could buy a motor," Petree said. "Ned Jarrett gave us a motor on the condition that his son, Dale, could drive the car."
That race caused Petree's car owner career and Dale Jarrett's driving career to soar. The two joined forces with the help of Newsome to form DAJ Racing, an acronym that stands for the first names of the three partners involved -- Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Jimmy Newsome. This gave Petree the nudge he was looking for in racing.
He had tremendous mechanical talent. He could build cars and race them himself. Although Petree was only able to run an occasional race on his home turf in Hickory, he recognized that his future was working on the cars. In 1981, Petree joined Darrell Waltrip and team owner Junior Johnson as a tire changer. The team went on to capture the championship that season.
That wasn't enough. Petree settled in for a few years with team owner Leo Jackson, an alliance that proved prosperous in the following years. For five years Petree worked his way up the ranks. At the age of 28 he was crowned crew chief for Jackson's driver, Phil Parsons. From 1989 to1992, Petree teamed with driver Harry Gant to win nine races, including an outstanding stretch of four consecutive wins in September of 1991.
Now that Petree was recognized for his talents throughout the garage area, team owner Richard Childress knocked on his door. He offered Petree an opportunity he couldn't refuse, a chance to crew chief the legendary five-time Winston Cup Champion Dale Earnhardt. After a rocky start, the duo went on to capture back-to-back championships in 1993 and 1994. Jeff Gordon beat Earnhardt by only 35 points in 1995 for the championship title, leaving Earnhardt tied with Richard Petty for the most championships won.
In only three seasons together, Earnhardt and Petree won 15 races, two championships and just under $10 million. All the while, the man who gave Petree his first crew chief title, Leo Jackson, was planning to retire and wanted someone to keep his team in tact. What better choice then Petree?
When the 1996 season began, Petree served as both owner and crew chief for Robert Pressley at the facility in Flat Rock, N.C. In his first year as an owner, Petree struggled, but overcame adversity by luring driver Ken Schrader to drive his Skoal Bandit Chevy in 1997.
Together Petree and Schrader built the foundation of APR. In two seasons as owner/crew chief and driver they earned five top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. The opportunities seemed endless. In 1999 Petree got the chance to add another team to his stable. His new No. 55 team sponsored by Square D needed a driver and a crew chief. Petree chose long-time friend Jimmy Elledge as crew chief and announced Kenny Wallace would drive it. His hands full, Petree hired crew chief Sammy Johns for the No. 33 Chevy so he could focus on his new multi-car operation.
Wallace and the No. 55 Chevy positioned themselves solidly in the top-25, finishing the 1999 season a respectable 22nd in points and were continuing to build the team for 2000. But Schrader had different goals for his future in the No. 33 Chevy. At Richmond in September, Schrader informed Petree that he would not return to the Flat Rock, N.C.-based team. And when Schrader left, so did Sammy Johns.
But Andy Petree had been in the sport for a long time. He knew the game, knew how to play it and knew what it took to win it. So he hired Joe Nemechek as the new driver for the No. 33 Chevy.
Nemechek claimed three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 2000 for the No. 33 car. Kenny Wallace, whose two-year contract was up, claimed one second-place finish in Talladega. Once again, Petree had to decide where he wanted his team to be in the future -- and that was victory lane. That's what led him to hire Bobby Hamilton, whose career resume featured victories at distinctively different tracks (Phoenix, Rockingham and Martinsville). Two months after the 2001 season started Petree and Hamilton found themselves in victory lane together surrounded by an ecstatic No. 55 team.
So what does Andy Petree want now? He's worked with the best and been the best, so what is there left to do? Petree's answer is simple: "Win more races!"
Hamilton and Petree will try to do just that with a new look in 2002. The new colors -- white, green and gray -- reflect the sponsorship with Schneider Electric, parent company of previous sponsor Square D. Petree added Charley Pressley to crew chief his operation of the No. 55 Chevy. The careers of Petree, Pressley and Hamilton have intersected in the past, but never have all three worked as a group. With the three coming together in Flat Rock, Petree has set himself up for his final wish -- the winning combination.