2010-12-09 / Sports

RPM Has New Investors

By Gerald Hodges THE RACING REPORTER

Richard Petty will remain as chairman of Richard Petty Motorsports as he and new partners Medallion Financial Group and DGB Investments have purchased the assets of the race team from George Gillett.

Just how well the team will do remains to be seen. Petty will serve as chairman and will be actively involved in overseeing the day-to-day operations of the organization, which will field Fords for drivers AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose next year.

Petty has won 200 races, but being able to handle a large current-day NASCAR operation might be more than the 73-year-old Hall of Famer can handle.

“Going forward, we have put together an all-star ownership team consisting of myself, Medallion and Veri- Fone CEO Doug Bergeron, Andy Murstein,” Petty said. They will help take us to a whole new level, and I could not be more excited about our future.”

Bergeron and Murstein said their investment companies together own more than 50 percent of Richard Petty Motorsports, and Medallion owns the most of any of the investors.

“Richard is the chairman of the business – he certainly is the front man,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to instill some proper business discipline here as well, both in terms of managing costs, growing the business and securing the best and most lucrative sponsorships.

“It is my hope that within a year or two, we can get back to four cars.”

RPM finished the season with all four teams and had a strong performance in the season finale with Aric Almirola finishing fourth and Allmendinger fifth at Homestead Miami Speedway. Allmendinger will return to the team’s No. 43 car next season and team with Ambrose, who will drive the No. 9. Remembering Big Al and Large Marge

Big Al and Large Marge were a couple that lived in Racine, Wisc., during the summer months, and traveled to Florida in the winter. “Snowbirds,” is the title given to such people by Southerners.

They stayed in a motorhome during the race weekend at Homestead Speedway. During the rest of the winter they lived at a campground in Islamorada, Fla., in the upper Florida Keys.

This year it was different.

The pair did not make the race.

Not having Big Al and Large Marge around was like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together, and not being able to find the right matching pieces.

During the last race, I got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I went near turn 4, which was their designated camping spot.

Like me, they were at the track-opening in 1999 when Tony Stewart won the first race, the Pennzoil 400. I saw them at every race since then. And I got to know them well.

Real NASCAR fans is the best way to describe them. Al had a black Labrador, named Stewart. He had pictures showing No. 20 painted on Stewart’s doghouse, and a sign that read, “Joe Gibbs Blvd.”

Marge was a Jeff Gordon fan. Several No. 24 flags flew from the motorhome, and the inside was covered with Gordon memorabilia, all except for the driver’s seat, which had a big No. 20 seat cover on it.

An Elliott Sadler fan from Lynchburg, Va., described a generous gift from Marge in 2005.

“During the previous year, I had shared with Marge that Elliott Sadler was my favorite driver,” said the fan. “The next year she handed me a handmade afghan with Elliott’s number embroidered on it. It must have taken her many hours to make it, and she refused any payment.”

Hospitality among friends is common throughout the pits at NASCAR races. But the way this couple provided eats and drinks was rare.

But it wasn’t just the merriment provided under their motorhome awning. Genuine heartfelt appreciation was shown to everyone that hung out with them. They gave much more than traditional Southern hospitality.

They made you feel special.

They were able to carry on conversations that brought everyone into it. I never heard either utter a harsh word, about a driver, team, or even Brian France, the sometimes controversial CEO of NASCAR.

I remember seeing Al work on another person’s Coleman stove. “Bring it over,” Al told the camper. He spent nearly the entire Nationwide race repairing it, just so the family would be able to cook a hot breakfast the next morning.

Over the years, I learned a little about the pair.

Al had played football at the University of Pennsylvania. He stood six-feet, sixinches. Even at his advanced age he was still broad at the shoulders and narrow at the hips. I have an idea, that not many people gave him much lip. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions. They expected him to be a starter his rookie season, but a knee injury forced him to sit out the entire first year.

The following spring he was traded to the Chicago Bears. But the knee never healed properly, and his promising football career came to an end after a second knee operation.

With a college degree, he was able to go to work as an investment broker. He did quite well. After four years of working in Chicago, he met Marge. The couple married, moved to Racine, and raised one boy, they named Eric. Al became a district manager, with an income of over $1 million, annually.

Marge was no small person. She stood about fivefeet, eleven, but at age 70, she still had the shape of an attractive woman. She was born in the little Wisconsin town of Rice Lake. She attended the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire. After graduation, she obtained a job with the Milwaukee (Wisconsin) County School Board.

She met Al during one of the many seminars he hosted in Milwaukee.

“The first moment I laid eyes on him, I knew I had to have him,” said Marge.

Being around them wasn’t about being around monied people. It was about socializing with honest, down-to-earth, true-blue NASCAR fans.

In addition to their generous nature, and caring ways, Eric said he was blessed to have them as parents.

“They loved each other in so many ways,” said Eric. “Dad worked long hours to make us a good living. Mom often complained. When it got too much for him, he’d slow down. But his work never interfered with our relationship. He would find time to get me to soccer practice, and pick me up,

“He tried to save Sunday for Mom and I. Over the years they came to respect and depend on each other. When Dad fell short, Mom took up the slack. They really looked forward to his retiring.”

“After the first heart attack, the doctors told him, he had to change his line of work. The stress of the highpressure investment business he was in had gotten to him.”

“He didn’t hesitate to trade the business life for retirement and a motorhome. He and Mom really enjoyed traveling, especially being able to spend the winter in Florida.”

“You know dad and mom never knew about racing until after he retired, but from the time they became interested, it was the second love of their lives.”

“The doctors told him he might have a ‘big one,’ in the future, but we were totally unprepared. It happened suddenly, and then it was all over.”

“We really had no idea that Mom also had a bad heart. The doctors had given her no indication anything like that was wrong with her. Less than two months after Dad died, she was gone, too.”

Eric had told me all that would come out. He wiped something from the corner of his eye, turned and walked away.

I understood Eric’s feelings. It was hard for me to handle also.

Racing trivia question. Which Cup team does Martin Truex drive for?

Last week’s question: Which former driver was known as “The Intimidator”? Answer. Dale Earnhardt Sr.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

Return to top