2009-01-15 / Sports

The Demise Of The "Kings" Kingdom

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Richard Petty Richard Petty The Petty name and No. 43 car will still be around this season.

The Petty Kingdom won't.

Richard Petty Racing is a thing of the past. It has been integrated into Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

The "King" is no longer a car owner.

A spokesperson is the best word I know to use in describing his future role in racing.

It's a sad end to a glorious reign.

Last June Kyle Petty announced that his family had sold a majority of his family's team to an investment group, Boston Ventures.

Apparently the Boston group didn't have enough money to keep the operation open after the loss of two major sponsors.

"They filled their plate with more than they could eat," said Richard Petty. They looked at it and said, 'Oh my god, this is Sprint Cup racing. We can do this and be a part of it.'"

"They got into it and it was a different animal than what they thought it was. I don't think they were ready for it."

That and the fact that the last time a Petty car was in victory lane was in 1999, led to its downfall.

Sponsors want to see results. While most Fortune 500 companies don't insist that a driver win every week, it is a proven fact that if a driver isn't running up front, the team isn't getting the maximum exposure.

The Petty cars for the last few years were no more than "fieldfillers," They helped make up the 43-car starting field, but had no chance of winning.

Six months after the Boston Group took over, the operation was down to one car, and during the Christmas holidays, that car, the No. 43, that Richard Petty won most of his 200 races in, was sold/merged/absorbed into GEM.

Petty's last ride was in 1992.

In late 1991, Petty announced he would retire after the 1992 season. His final top-10 finish came at the 1991 Budweiser at the Glen. He chose to run the entire 1992 season, not just selected events as other drivers have done before retirement. His year-long Fan Appreciation Tour took him around the country, participating in special events, awards ceremonies and fan-related meetings.

Despite the tremendously busy appearance schedule, and mediocre race results, Petty managed to qualify for all 29 races in 1992. On his final visit to each track, he would lead the field on the pace lap to salute the fans. Petty's final race was the season-ending race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race was notable in that it was the second closest points championship in NAS-CAR history, with six drivers mathematically eligible to win the championship.

A record 160,000 spectators attended the race, which went down to the final lap with Bill Elliott winning the race, and Alan Kulwicki winning the championship by 10 points over Elliott after Davey Allison dropped out early after a crash.

Facing the intense pressure, Petty barely managed to qualify at Atlanta, posting the 39th fastest speed out of 41 cars. He would not have been eligible for the provisional starting position, and had to qualify on speed.

Early in the race, Petty became involved in an accident, and his car caught fire. He pulled the car off the track, and climbed out of the burning machine uninjured. His pit crew worked diligently all afternoon to get the car running again, and with two laps to go, he pulled out of the pits and was credited as running at the finish in his final race. He took his final checkered flag, finishing in 35th position. After the race, Petty circled the track to salute the fans one final time.

NASCAR has changed so much since Richard retired in 1992 that I'm not sure how he will be missed. He was and still is an essential part of NASCAR's roots, and a reminder of how NASCAR used to be.

He's always been a gentleman around me, and I hope he doesn't quit hanging out at the race track. I will continue to search the infield for Richard standing on his hauler wearing his cowboy hat.

Meanwhile, Kyle Petty said he would like to obtain a Cup ride for 2009, but conceded that his efforts could be harmed by the economic downturn.

"I think the merger is a plus for Richard Petty and for Petty Enterprises," Kyle Petty said. "We have not spoken about it or how he (Richard) will fit into the organization. The less I know about it the better off I am. I have not been a part of the organization for the past five or six months."

"I think I can still drive and with the right team, could win races. We are all sitting around and twiddling our thumbs to see how the bailout is going to affect the contracts already in place with the auto manufacturers. Speedways have already seen corporate sponsors begin to pull back. Some of the teams have seen some of their sponsors cut them 15-to-20 percent because it is all they can afford.

"The economy is going to make each race a local race. People are not going to be traveling from Oklahoma to Talladega. You are going to see people there from Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia who can drive over for the day and go home.

"Racing teams are also feeling the pinch, and I think even the drivers that are secure in their ride are worried about it, too."

"There's going to be even less opportunities out there for the unsigned drivers, and that's going to hurt drivers who are looking for a new ride."

Elliott Sadler to stay

Elliott Sadler, who has driven for Gillett Evernham Motorsports for the past 2 1/2 years, will retain his position as driver in 2009, less than two weeks after it was reported that A.J. Allmendinger was close to finalizing a deal that would have put him in the 19 car for 2009.

Sadler had threatened to sue if his contract was terminated before the end of 2010.

That means A. J. Allmendinger is job hunting again.

Next Week: Racing in 2009: Beyond the Hype

Racing Trivia Question: What year did Richard Petty get his first win?

Last Week's Question: Which NASCAR series does Matt Crafton compete in? Answer. The Camping World Truck Series.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at: hodgesnews@ earthlink.net.

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