Daytona 500: Kyle Petty - Dodge interview, part 2

Continued from part 1 WHY HAVE SO MANY GREAT DRIVERS NEVER BEEN ABLE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500? "I don't know. Some of those drivers have won at Talladega and some have not won at either place. Some of them flat out don't like restrictor plate ...

Continued from part 1

WHY HAVE SO MANY GREAT DRIVERS NEVER BEEN ABLE TO WIN THE DAYTONA 500?

"I don't know. Some of those drivers have won at Talladega and some have not won at either place. Some of them flat out don't like restrictor plate racing and don't like coming here, and that's fine, too. Some of them have been with the wrong teams at the wrong times. I think Roush's lack of success plus success has fairly well been documented here. He came here forever and couldn't run at all, none of the Roush cars could. I think when you look at it it's circumstances. Look at my father and Petty Enterprises, look at DEI and Childress, it's almost like a team could dominate an era and when a team dominated for three or four years, that takes some of the races out. If you go back and just add Petty Enterprises, Earnhardt's stuff with Childress, add the DEI stuff in and some of the Hendrick stuff in, even out of 50 races that only gives you 15 or 20 races that someone else could win. When you start looking at it like that, there's just not been that many opportunities unless you've been with some of those teams. That's the big thing when you look at the bigger picture. Circumstances have kept them out of it, not driving ability, circumstances."

REFLECT BACK ON WINNING THE ARCA RACE HERE

"Of everything that's ever happened, that's probably been the goofiest thing that's ever happened. We came here with a Dodge Magnum. We had switched from Dodge to GM that year. We came with a Dodge Magnum and I'd never been to a racetrack before because my father wouldn't let me go. He brings me to Daytona and says we're going to go test at Daytona. How smart can that be? The man says, 'OK, we're not going to take you to Caraway.' That's six miles away and it's a half-mile track. 'We're going to take you to Daytona.' We qualify fourth or fifth and lead most of the race. I really shouldn't have won the race. (Someone) hit a seagull on the backstretch, and that's when you ran glass windows, and the windshield caved in and I ended up beating whoever was running second at that time. It's been pretty much down hill from then until now."

COMMENT ON THE WAY QUALIFYING WORKED OUT HERE

"I don't understand it. I'm going to be blatantly honest and say I don't understand how it all worked out. We knew coming in the top 35 were in. Then 4 on speed and 4 racing in and how they chose the 4 on speed. I kinda thought I understood the 4 on speed when John Andretti and Skinner and Leffler and all those guys got in the other day. Then yesterday when they started throwing stuff on the TV screen on who was in and who was out, I'm thinking I don't understand any of it. Kerry is in if this guy does this or that. Then you've got this guy that's in if this happens. Obviously a more complicated mind than mine figured this thing out. I really don't know. If you go back for Robby Gordon and teams like that with sponsors to come down here and work without a net is really, really hard. It's hard to come to Daytona and not have a net. For Robby to come down here and run like he did and finish seventh and to go home is pretty heartbreaking. In the past if you were in the top 14 or 15 you were in the race. It didn't work out that way this time. I think it played out that way at a place like this. I'm not saying right or wrong or whatever. When we get to other places it won't be nearly as complicated."

COMMENT ON CHANGES AT DIS

"If you go to Chicago, Kansas, the LA market, Texas, the recent racetracks that are built, there's a huge difference in the way fans are handled and the way they are moved there's a huge difference at those racetracks compared to Darlington or Martinsville or the racetracks that were built 30 years ago. If you came to Daytona last year, you'd look at this place and say, 'yeah, this place was built in 1958.' You come to Daytona this year and you say this place could have been built in the last two or three years. I think it was a huge upgrade for the place. At the same time, I think the one thing the sport has to do, we talk about it's a fan friendly sport, it's a driver access deal. I've got to halfway be honest and say that's a lot of BS. The drivers are a long way from where the fans are now compared to where they were 10 years ago and especially compared to where they were 20 years ago. So, how do we make the fans feel that they can be a part of the sport or get closer to the sport without actually dropping them off in the garage area.

"I think the Nextel Fan Zone here is a pretty cool process. Those people standing on top of the roof and screaming and hollering, that's OK. To have some clowns walking around to entertain the kids, that's pretty cool. When you're seven or eight years old, you can only stare are so many racecars before you get bored, no matter who they are. It keeps the fans and it's interactive with the fans and it becomes a place to come that's not just about the racecars. It's an event for the whole family. If you're going to have that, then yeah, we're going to have to have artichoke and spinach dip and we're going to have to have a little bit of other things going on out here in the infield besides Martinsville hotdogs and some of the other stuff. We're going to have to spread some of that out. I think it's a ripple effect. Once something moves in one direction other things come along with it. That's part of it.

"To come to Daytona this year and look at the Speedway Club or 500 Club or whatever they call that, and to look at victory lane and the way they've changed things, I think it's phenomenal. It looks like the Super Bowl of racing now. It looks like a place that was designed last year and not in 1958. I think that's good. That gives you where the sport is headed and you'll get people who'll come and say 'Daytona is a clean place. Martinsville is a clean place. It's not just some old race place.' You'll at least get new fans who'll come give you a look now whereas in the past you had the reputation of being a little bit backwards in a lot of ways."

DO YOU THINK THE DEI CARS ARE STILL THE CARS TO BEAT?

"Yeah, but we thought that coming in. I think they caught everybody off guard in the Shootout that Junior didn't run as strong as he could have run. He got up to fourth or fifth after he got his plugwires fixed, but then he faltered. I think qualifying set some people back. They weren't quite sure, but their cars draft really, really well. I still think the DEI cars are tough, but I think the Hendrick cars are a leg up right now. The 48 and 24, I think the 25 had some trouble on pit road, but I thought Kyle Bush did a great job yesterday. I think the Hendrick cars have matched DEI if not moved a little bit ahead, but they're still going to be a factor."

WHAT WOULD YOU MISS MOST IF YOU WERE NOT RACING?

"The two things I would miss most if I was not in racing, the No. 1 thing would be the driving. The No. 2 thing is the people. The people that work for Joe Gibbs and Jack Roush, the people that work on racecars, those officials, you guys coming around and just talking, just being around people who love this sport or who want to be a part of this sport. That's the part I would miss. I never had to come back in here and talk to you guys like this, thumbs up. I've got no problem with that. I've got no problem with that side of the sport. That's not for me. I like the people. When I broke my leg in 1991 and sat out for six months, the thing I realized more than anything else was I missed the guys that worked for Childress Racing. I missed Will Lind and Chocolate Myers and being able to see them at the race track. I missed not being able to see Steve Waid or Mike Mulhern. I missed those guys. I wasn't at the racetrack and I just missed people.

"The officials, as much grief as they give you sometimes, I missed those people. As sad as it may sound, this is my family and my community. I tell people I was born on June 1960 and came to my first race in July 1960 at Daytona. I've been coming to tracks ever since. That's all I know. That's a sad statement in a lot of ways, and I'll admit that, but this is all I know. That's the part I would miss more. You ask Rusty or Mark, someone who grew up and had a civilian life or an outside life and then got in the sport, they might have a different answer, but for me, that's the part for me. The driving part is the part I'd miss the most. You really need a two-year retirement tour. You need one year to do nothing but PR and the media and one year to do nothing but drive the car. You'd fulfill what you'd need to do from the PR and media standpoint and then you'd get to do what you want to do for one year. No questions asked, don't come find me, I'm just going to drive this car all year. There's going to be so much in Rusty's year and so much in Mark's year. When they look back on it, it's going to be almost like my father. When you look back he really didn't retire in 1992. It was '91. That was his last normal year. I think for those guys 2004 will be their last normal year."

ARE YOU PREPARED FOR ONLY NON-PETTYS TO DRIVE FOR PETTY ENTERPRISES?

"I think you have to be. Obviously ours was not only a racing business but also a family business. I use this example and I'll always use it because of where I'm from. The people where I grew up in is a farm community. They raise tobacco, cows, poultry. We're not an oddity there. Having a fourth or fifth generation business is not an oddity because most of these farms are fifth or sixth generation farms. If lightning strikes or something happens you don't stop farming just because the crops burn or cows die. For us, when Adam's accident happened, it stands you up and you think about things. You look at it and say, 'this is all we know and this is all we do.' From that moment on, from May 12, 2000 when Adam's accident happened, you look at it and say there's going to come a time when we still have this business but one of us is not going to be the lead person. My grandfather and father was. I came along and Austin still works there. He can work there another 30-40 years in a business standpoint and a leadership standpoint, but not as a driver.

"That will change for us. When that changes it'll be different for us. We always been proud to have Petty Enterprises and to have a Petty drive, no matter how we ran on the racetrack, that was who we were. We'll continue to be a part of the sport, but we've come to the realization that that will happen. We've just got to put ourself in position so when that does happen, working with Dodge, whoever we do put in the car has that maybe more of the Petty philosophy of how they approach the sport, how they approach the fans, how they approach the media. There are some drivers out there now who probably wouldn't be a Petty driver, drivers that are winning races. We've got to continue to stay true to who we are."

HOW HARD WILL IT BE TO WALK AWAY FROM RACING THE CAR?

"That's the part that will be hard. You sit in that car and you feel like you control a 3,400-pound racecar and you can make it do things you want it to do. You come out a race on Sunday and you were better than 42 other guys. That's what it's all about. You can take the money out of the equation totally. Money is a bad barometer to measure things off of because it constantly changes. It changes from year to year, from decade to decade. It just changes. You always hear, 'if Babe Ruth were playing now he'd be making so much money.' Guess what? He's not playing now. Nobody cares how much he'd be making. If Richard Petty had done this, that's OK, but Richard Petty had done this, that's OK, but Richard Petty did this over here.

"I look at it a totally different way. There's so much in the sport right now that you have to do as a driver that Cale Yarborough or Richard Petty or Buddy Baker didn't have to do. They were happy to have a million dollars a year to run their cars or $600,000 or $500,000 and that's all the sponsor expected out of them to go run their racecar. They didn't have to leave here Monday morning after the race and fly to LA and do a two-hour appearance and then fly back and do one in Atlanta on Tuesday and then go back to California to race. They didn't have to do stuff like that. They didn't have to spend a day in make-up to do commercials. They didn't have to do this or that. All they had to do was drive a racecar. What happens to drivers now, and if you really talk to 'em, when they talk about getting burned out., they're not burned out on the driving. They're not burned out on going around in circles and working on the racecars. They're burned out on everything that goes along with that part of it.

"When you look at it, we may be the last group that makes it to 45 or 50 years old. There's going to be that rare guy who comes along and is going to hang in there to that age. You're always going to have that, but the majority will probably only stay in the sport 15 years. They may make it to 40. It may be more in line with the NBA, with the NFL, hockey because they will make enough money in that time to sustain 'em, but at the same time, they're going to get burned out on it. I'm not burned out on it and I've never been burned out on it because this is all I've ever known. We may just be the last generation of drivers that retired like my Father and Ned and all those guys before them. When you look at it, we may be the last group that makes it 20-30 years."

WHAT'S THE BEST LESSON YOUR FATHER EVER TAUGHT YOU?

"The most important thing is I'm from Level Cross, N.C., population 280. Hee Haw. That's where I'm from and that's where I'm always going to be from. My values and what I believe.... We grew up around farmers. I grew up playing football at a school and we didn't have two or three practices a day because so many kids played on the team that were farmers that sometimes we'd have to go prime tobacco or go get up hay so those kids could come practice in the afternoon. That's just the way it worked. The football coach would say, 'OK, you're going to help them get up hay because we need to practice this afternoon.' I think what I learned from that and people in the community referred to my father as Richard. He was not Richard Petty. He was Richard. He was only Richard Petty to the outside world.

"In that community he was Richard. Because of that everybody helped everybody. I think that's the one thing I got from my father and I got from my parents and community. You're part of a bigger picture, and you're part of something that if your neighbor needs something you help your neighbor. That's the way this sport has always been. Somebody breaks a motor, somebody loans 'em a motor. Somebody falls out and they give their tires to somebody else. Somebody needs a pit crew member, he's over here working. That's the way this sport is and it's just nurtured that from 44 years of growing up in this sport and that community. The biggest thing I learned is you're part of something bigger and it's important to be who you are and to help other people. I think that's the biggest thing."

-dodge motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Kyle Petty , Robby Gordon , Richard Petty , Jack Roush , Buddy Baker , Cale Yarborough