KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Petty, 41-year-old CEO of Petty Enterprises, talks about the reorganization of his race teams for 2002. John Andretti returns in the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge and Buckshot Jones will pilot the No....
KYLE PETTY (No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Petty, 41-year-old CEO of Petty Enterprises, talks about the reorganization of his race teams for 2002. John Andretti returns in the No. 43 Cheerios Dodge and Buckshot Jones will pilot the No. 44 Georgia Pacific Dodge. Mike Ege will build engines for all the Petty Enterprises Dodge teams this season, and NASCAR veteran Robin Pemberton returns to Petty Enterprises as vice president and general manager.
"We knew where we were, and our goal has been pretty steady. I joke about it all the time. We got pretty good at running 35th-43rd out there. We were the best teams out there running 35th-43rd. By the end of the year we got pretty good at running 25th-35th, so that was an improvement for us. If we can come out this year and run 15th-25th, then that's an improvement. It's going to be a slow process. We're not going to go from the back of the pack to being a Hendrick or a Yates or a Roush organization. It's going to take time. We've got a plan, and we've got to build back. I don't look at our deal as being in a slump. I look at our deal as being basically a start over. You're just a company that's been around for 50 years, but you've got to reorganize and start all over again.
"You've got to change to stay afloat. Our problem is that we fell so far behind, we've got to get back in the game. You've got to have the foresight and technology to stay caught up and stay a part of the game, but you've got to have a little bit of a program going to get you ahead and keep you ahead. We failed to stay in the game the last 10 or 15 years and stay ahead of where we needed to be. That's part of the process that Robin brings and part of the process that Mike Ege Racing Engines bring. We've totally reorganized almost every team. Walk down there and look at them and they're a different group at the race track and a different group at the race shop. We made changes wherever they needed to be made and we'll continue to make more changes if we need to.
"I thought we were as safe (in a race car) as we could be a year ago. I say that in all honesty. Coming off the year before with Adam's accident, and what we did at Petty Enterprises and what NASCAR stepped up and did, I didn't think we could get any safer than we were a year ago. In hindsight, we weren't as safe as we needed to be. Are we as safe as we've ever been today? Yes. It's as safe as this sport has ever been. I can sit here and say that today with the utmost confidence. I think the ball goes into the court of the drivers and owners and team members but also in NASCAR to keep the ball moving. I think for awhile we lost sight of what we needed to do and maybe that's where we got complacent a little bit. We didn't move forward as fast as we needed to, but I think we're pretty good right now.
"I've still got the PPI seat. We tested it over the winter and got comfortable with it. NASCAR has allowed us some concessions to work on the dash and we're still trying to modify that. We're working on it on a car back at the shop for easy entry and easy exit. They want the seat to work. We tested it at Vegas and down here and I think it's like the HANS deal. You just don't throw it in the car and say it's a Lazy Boy. You've got to get comfortable with it. That's the same way the HANS is. That's why people have the HANS and the Hutchens device and different deals. It's in the car. That's what we came with. It's our primary car and primary seat. The 43 and 44 worked hard on their seats over the winter. They haven't been able to get as used to the seat as I was. I think because of Adam's accident maybe I'm a little more motivated to try things than some of the other guys sometimes. I think John is willing to try it. We've got two more seats coming.
"Once you let it be a perception that you're always going to win, that's when you start losing. I think the sport just changed, and it changed right before our eyes and it changed in a lot of ways. We talk about it all the time. You go to Petty Enterprises when my father was winning races and even when we had two cars, they only had about 20 people that worked there. Now we've got three cars and we've got about 180 or 190 people. If you throw in Mike Ege and those guys, that puts us over 200. I think when you look at things, the sport changed. Everybody runs a lot of cars now. My father used to run all year long on two or three cars. It's just a different sport. We let the sport outgrow us in a lot of ways. At the same time that I went off to drive for the Wood Brothers and then Felix, and my father went to drive for Mike Curb and then came home and tried to do it again, things changed a lot. Things changed a lot between 1982 and 1990. That was a big shift in technology. You had Rick Hendrick come in and you had Felix Sabates come in and the sport began to change internally. I think we just got caught behind.
"That's why the Dodge program was so important to us last year. It gave us a chance to start all over. We had a reason to start all over. We've tried to stay our own course and be Petty Enterprises as much as we could. It's tough to just be Petty Enterprises anymore. We've branched out and looked for technology in different places. I think that was one thing that was hard for us to do mentally more than anything else. Sometimes it's hard to mentally admit that you don't know everything that's going on. I think for us, we've branched out.
"This will be our first deal with the new engines. What we basically did, we took all our old engines and game them over to Mike. They took those engines and did variations on them, whether it be their set of heads on our block or their block and short block on our set of heads. That way you could see what worked and what didn't. We kept working off the same baseline. We tested with our old stuff. We're pretty excited about the new motors. I don't think you worry about reliability on restrictor-plate stuff, but I don't think the stuff we've seen and the data we've gotten back from running hundreds of laps at Rockingham and Kentucky with parts and pieces we know will go into this, no I don't think we're worried at all about the engines' durability.
"This is all we know how to do. This is what I grew up doing, and this is what we do. Anymore than anybody else would wake up one morning and say the heck with it, I'm not going to work. I'm just going to quit. To quit doing what you do and quit doing what you love is just to give up on life. After Adam's accident, we all pretty much made a commitment that we weren't giving up on life. I think for us the goal is to keep this thing moving along and to move it forward. There's been some struggles. Nobody said it was going to be easy, and it wasn't easy when my father was winning races. They made it look easy, but that doesn't mean it was easy. For us, you've just got plugging along and you've got to keep you site on what you're trying to do. We've laid out a five-year plan. We're a little bit behind schedule on some things and a little bit ahead of schedule on some things, but we're getting there.
"It's tough when you send three cars to the race track and one team comes home. We set our goals. We were harder on ourselves than you guys were on us. We said at the beginning of last year that if we went to the track and had to use a provisional, then that counts as not making the race. Even if you start the race, that counts as not making a race in the total scheme. If you look at our record last year, we missed 34 races. That means we have three teams and one team didn't go to the race track all year long in the way we looked at it.
"When we laid out all our stuff at the end of the year, we were honest with ourselves. We had one team that didn't go to the track all year long. It's tough to keep up morale on that, but I think the one thing that did help us was they understood that we were constantly changing. We changed personnel. We changed the way we did things. We changed systems. We moved our engine department. We tried and tried with our engine department. We just couldn't succeed. I'm not an engine guy, and I don't understand engines the way I should. I dropped the ball on the engine department, so we went to Mike Ege.
"From the other perspective of running the business, I look back and it's one of those deals where you get up in the morning and say you can do this and then when you look at the results, you say maybe I couldn't do this. We had to go somewhere else and look, and that's where Robin came on board. We just got to a point where it's tough to be one man, one car, much less one man, three cars. I never ever said I was the man, period. It takes a team to do this, and I think we're trying to establish a team at Petty Enterprises. We preach this all the time. We're one team. We just happen to be running three cars. We carry that one-team concept all the way through. That's been a plus for us. That's been hard to get into some people's head, and it's been hard to keep going, but that's been one of the big pluses for morale. When John would do good and I was sitting at home or when Buckshot would do good and I hadn't made a race, at least they had one team to hang their hat on. We weren't the best team by any stretch, but we had some bright spots.
"My focus is still on bringing Petty Enterprises back to be a winning organization. I think we've just expanded the group with Robin and Mike Ege and our crew chiefs. Last year I was doing interviews worried about whether the cars were going to get through inspection. This year, I don't have to worry about that. Robin is already doing his job. You talk about morale. When we made the announcement that we were going with Mike Ege Racing Engines, the rest of the shop picked it up a notch. When we brought Robin in, jaws at the shop just dropped. They couldn't believe anybody of his caliber would want to go to work at Petty Enterprises. When you look at the confidence people like that bring to the table, it's beyond their knowledge and what they can do for you. Both of those moves brought a lot of confidence to the team."