Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What do the recent changes mean for Petty Enterprises?

This has to be a week where the lights are on late at night at Petty Enterprises' new shop in Mooresville, NC. First came the possible addition of a business partner that will change the way that the Pettys have always done business. Now we find that Kyle will step out of the 45 car for Sunday's race at Texas in favor of Chad McCumbee. Today we find out that the Petty operation has suffered an even bigger blow, the loss of General Mills as a sponsor to the 43 car, and the possibility that Bobby Labonte might be leaving the team after 2008.

Medallion Financial Group, who makes it's bread and butter business model financing medallions for taxi's, and making business loans, has confirmed that the company might partner with Petty Enterprises to build a hopefully winning racing team and a lucrative business. It's not a secret that Petty has been struggling to keep up with the mega teams over the last few years. With and influx of cash, it's possible that Petty Enterprises might become a winning racing operation again. Unfortunately, within a day or two of that announcement, we find out that General Mills, a long time sponsor for Petty, is leaving after 2008 in order to sponsor a new team for Richard Childress Racing.

Add to the mix the failure of Kyle Petty to qualify for the Martinsville race last week, and times appear to be changing for the Pettys. Throw in the possibility that Bobby Labonte may leave PE for Childress or another team, and this could spell disaster for the organization in Nascar with the most wins ever.

I don't doubt that the 43 team will be able to find sponsorship for 2009, no matter who's in the car. Having a champion in the car would help though. Just having the name Petty attached to the race car is not a sure bet for sponsorship. The 45 Dodge of Kyle Petty has had to really scramble over the last few years to keep the car sponsored for a full season. The 43 has the Petty fame behind it, but can it last forever?

A lot of fans today don't remember watching Richard Petty race, especially back when he was winning every other race every week. Unfortunately, the same is also true of prospective sponsors. The influx of cash that a possible business partner will surely help, at least in the short term, but how long can Petty Enterprises survive?

PE runs a two car team, and has for several years. Another legendary Nascar team, the Wood Brothers, has for most of it's existence run a 1 car team. 20 years ago, 1 and 2 car teams won a lot of races and championships, but that day is long gone now. It's becoming increasingly rare for a team without the fully allotted 4 cars to win races anymore. I think that's a shame, but that's another column. Facts being what they are, I would hate to see a team with all the tradition of Petty Enterprises fall to the status of "strokers." Backing the the 1970's, a "stroker" was a car that never really had a chance of winning. They just filled the field. Ask Richard Childress what a stroker was. He can tell you, because he was one practically his entire driving career.

The Wood Brothers have already fared worse. With generally only one entry per week, they have already missed a lot of races this season. They keep bringing in drivers like Bill Elliot, who has been trying to retire for years, just to make races. To a fan who watched David Pearson win a lot of races in the famed 21 car, as well as Neil Bonnett, and yes, even Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett, the demise of the Wood Brothers over recent years has been not pleasant for me to watch.

I hope we see the Petty operation survive. We need all the tradition we can, because basically that's what Nascar has always been: Tradition. Traditions have been falling by the wayside like clear cut lumber over the last few years, so that makes it even more important to keep true traditions like Petty Enterprises around and involved in Nascar.

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