The King was last holdout to move shop Petty Enterprises has announced beginning in December the race organization will relocate to Mooresville, North Carolina. They have entered a two-year agreement to lease race shop space currently used by Robert Yates Racing.
The #43 Cheerios/Betty Crocker Dodge and the #45 Marathon American Spirit Motor Oil/Wells Fargo/Tire Kingdom Dodge will both compete from this location in the 2008 Sprint Cup Series.
The move will begin in December and is intended to be completed by the end of the year. The shop is 85,000 square feet with 30,000 additional square feet for fabrication. Petty Enterprises currently has a Fabrication Shop in Thomasville, North Carolina. It is expected that every facet of Petty Enterprises, including fabrication, will move to Mooresville.
This is the first move for the organization since its inception 1949. 268 wins, 10 championships and nine Daytona 500 championships have come from Level Cross.
This move continues the commitment to winning by Petty Enterprises.
I’d like to let Richard say a few words about this decision:
“Good morning everyone. This is something that a lot of people knew back in the spring when they had the media tour at the shop. Robbie (Loomis) kind of let it out of the bag that we were looking to move to a different part of the country. Since then, we have looked for some land and looked for some buildings. The Robert Yates building came up a little while ago and we said, ‘Hey, this might be a good place to go see if it will work like we want to before we go spend a lot of money and all that stuff.’ It’s not exactly a location that we would choose, but it’s closer than Level Cross.
“We are going to go over to Robert’s and see what is going on. Maybe try to look in the near future to buy some land and make our own building in another area- maybe between Mooresville and Level Cross. We just felt like, over a period of years, we’ve been in Level Cross for 50 or 60 years, and it worked for us, but over a period of time the face of racing has changed so much. As it changed, we didn’t change as quickly as some of it. We said, ‘OK, we’ve got to get back into the fold here.’ I think everyone got together.
“We got together with our partners, our sponsors and said, ‘What do you think is the best deal?’ I think everyone agreed, even the guys in the shop and stuff, that we hate to leave Level Cross, but for us to get more competitive we feel like we need to move. So that’s what we are doing right now. As soon as Robert can get his stuff out we’ll get our stuff in.
Q: “Could you just talk about the sadness involved in that place, not only for you, but if you could talk about leaving that place as an active racing operation? Also, for traditional NASCAR fans who sort of felt like ‘as long as Petty Enterprises is still in those little white buildings there, there’s some NASCAR history involved, could you talk about the sadness both for you and for traditional fans.”
Petty: “I’m gonna look at it personally first. I was born in the house right beside the shop and I’ve always worked out of there. A couple of years we worked a little bit out of Kannapolis (N.C) with Curb, but we still had the shop operating. We’re not closing the shop down, per say, we’re just trying to figure out now what we’re really gonna do- what we’re gonna put into the shop part of it.
“Petty Enterprises, as far as Lee Petty, what he started and the racing part, we’re gonna move out the majority of that, I’m not saying we won’t move something else back into the shop as far as a race car or an airplane, I don’t know, something, the big deal is that no matter where we were at or whatever, when you walk through the gates at Level Cross you walked through NASCAR history. We were there when it started, when it went up and when it went down and all that kind of stuff. Its really, really hard to do, plus we were so much a part of the community, its kind of hard for us and for the people around the community to accept ‘hey, they’re not there anymore’. We hate that part of it, but again we feel like for us to go forward and to try to keep up with it. NASCAR is going and as they grow we just felt like we had to try to look at us growing somewhere a little bit down the line too. This is our first venture into something like this. One thing about it, we’re gonna be like a yo-yo. We’re gonna always have this home if we need to we can always come back.”
Q: “I’m curious to find out how temporary this situation is. Are you going to wait till next off season…”
Petty: “Really, we had the opportunity to look around. We looked at a lot of places from Salisbury (N.C.) on into Charlotte and up into Mooresville for some land or basically a position to land in. We got to talking to Robert awhile back and he said he might have an opportunity for us to look at his shop and I said ‘Okay, this is a good landing place.’
“We’re not looking at this as being a permanent Petty Enterprises home. This is a step toward a home. We felt like if we went over there and looked around and said ‘Okay, we need to be in this particular area or somewhere in another area,’ then we make that decision. That’s the reason we went and talked to Robert about just a two year plan, to know that we’re gonna stay there for two years. If we decided to build another place tomorrow, it would take another year or year and a half to get everything done so that we could move into it. Really, I don’t see it as a permanent home, I’m not saying it won’t be, but right now I don’t see it as a permanent home.”
Q: “Thank you and good to talk to you Richard, I have two questions and I’ll start with the first one, I remember when you raised your kids and everybody would say ‘How are you guys so balanced and you always said it was because they all came and stayed at Level Cross so first questions is, all your kids grew up as they are because they were raised there, is that hard to see it move on from there for that reason?”
Petty: “I don’t know that from the kids’ standpoint that it’s that much personal being in Level Cross except that it’s their home. The race part probably isn’t as important to them as it’s where grandma lives, ya know? I think that’s probably more important than the race shop per say especially as NASCAR grows and used to, we ran all the races right close and the kids could go to all the races then we got to going all over the Untied States, they couldn’t go to them all so the time changes on that.”
Q: “What makes you more competitive by moving into the Yates building? Why do you have to move to be more competitive? Is it team members you can get? What is it that will help you now?”
Petty: “Looking at the overall situation, we have enough room where we’re at. It’s not the buildings and stuff as much as the personnel we hope to be able to attract. You got to figure that the majority of your pit crew or your workers or your engineers or your painters or whatever, when they come from Wisconsin or somewhere they come to the Mooresville area because that’s where all the racing stuff is. It’s an hour and a half from Mooresville to Level Cross so if they come and settle in Mooresville it’s kinda hard to ask these guys to drive an hour and a half to work and an hour and a half back home, that’s three hours on the road. Not that they wouldn’t like to work for Petty Enterprises, they just can’t uproot their families a lot of times and move.”
“If this is where the core of the people are then maybe we’ll look at going to where the core is at and it won’t take us long to figure out if that’s the right solution or not. Again, one reason that when the Robert Yates building came up it was a good opportunity was to go test the waters to see if this is what we really want to do on a permanent basis.”
Q: “First off can you just talk about how many employees this will impact, how many people will be moving and leaving the area to go to the new shop?”
Petty: “We already have a lot of people from the Salisbury/Mooresville area that do come to work. Probably, we’re splitting half and half. In other words, we’ve probably got 20 people that really live in the Level Cross area and then the other hundred people are scattered around in other areas. When we look at it from that standpoint, some guy is already driving a half-hour or 45 minutes to Level Cross and he turns around and goes the other way he’s still got just a half hour going the other way. We think we’ve hit a pretty happy medium here, but again, we’re just gonna have to throw it out there and work with the people and try to make it work for everybody.”
Q: “Also Richard, we saw the Wood Brothers do this a few years ago. Why didn’t you guys make this move sooner?”
Petty: “Well, we didn’t see a whole lot of success with the way the Woods Brothers did it. Also, I think our main concern with Petty Enterprises was we had so many guys that have been working with us for 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 years, we have some people that have worked over there for 40 years. It’s hard to say ‘Hey guys, we appreciate what you guys have done but we’re moving.’ So we had to work around and figure a position for these guys. You can’t just say thank you and leave. So what can we do to keep these guys in a job because without those people doing their job five, 10, 15, 20 years ago we wouldn’t be in existence so how do we make it work on both sides. How do we make it work with older workers and with the newer workers? That has been our biggest problem right there.”
Q: “Also, were you the last one in upper management to be convinced that this move was the right thing and if so how did they do it?”
Petty: “Yeah, I think I was probably the last one, they worked on me for about a year or a year and a half. In fact, it had been mentioned years ago. They kept working at me and working on Kyle and working on me. I don’t guess they worked on Linda a whole lot about it but they worked on it. One day I went in and I said ‘Look guys, what do you guys think is going to be the best future for Petty Enterprises?’ You’re running this part here and another guy is running this part and another guy is running this part over here. Let’s get all these people together and say what do you all as a company think that we can do to make the company go forward? Not what I think, because I’m not there on a day-to-day basis making all the calls on an individual basis, y’all are. So I said ‘What do you think?’ Over a period of time, even some of the management, when we told them we were going to do this they said ‘Whoa, wait a minute,’ but once they go home and they think about it for about a week and they come back and say ‘You’re right, for Petty Enterprises to go forward we think we need to take this chance and go do it.’ So everybody kind of got on board as far as the management and then they convinced me that I needed to sort of push along with them.”
Q: “Last thing, obviously you guys have had talks with different groups about some kind of a merger possibly or partnership. Is this in anyway related to that or will that help increase the opportunity?”
Petty: “I’m gonna put it this way, we have been approached and we have approached people on some mergers or some other deal but this is strictly an independent, Petty Enterprises deal. We are going to do this if we get partners, if Petty is paying the bill or whatever. We’re going to do this from the inside out not the outside in. In other words, we’re not doing this to impress anybody. We’re doing this to try to make Petty Enterprises better; if Petty Enterprises is better then it will impress somebody so we’re working it from the inside out.”
Q: “Hi Richard, NASCAR and the sport grew with your wins at Level Cross. What was the most rewarding part of that?”
Petty: “I guess over the years it was looking back and looking at the competition that we run against and as people came in with money and stuff like that, still being able to operate out of a place that started on a dirt floor in 1949 and still being competitive and still being able to win races and championships and it finally caught up with us. It just took Richard Petty, hard-headed, like 20 years to say ‘Okay, we’ve outlived that particular segment of Petty Enterprises.’ It always made us feel proud to be able to go look at these great big, high-buck buildings that other teams have got and then we go over and look at our place that started in ’49 and say ‘Look, there has been more wins come out of that particular building right there than eight or 10 or these other buildings.’ That’s just a pride deal but pride doesn’t work too good at the bank so we’re gonna have to go forward with what we’re doing.”
Q: “Over time did you find any best way to handle the ups and downs over all that time, the frustrations of top-level racing, including a move like this?”
Petty: “Well, you know, anybody that knows me knows I’m fairly low-key, on the outside anyway. I always try to balance life as a real high and a real low. I try to stay in the middle. I’ve been both ways and all three ways. I’ve been as high as anybody can be and been almost as low as anybody can be in our racing career or life and I just try to keep an even keel. As long as I can stay a little bit above the middle ground I feel like we’re going forward and gaining stuff. It was a little bit of a hard sale but finally they told me I was so dang hard-headed we were gonna have to do something or just keep going down hill. I said ‘Okay, let’s put the brakes on, we’re gonna call what we’re doing this year the lowest thing we’ve ever done now we’ll go up from there.’
Q: “Richard, at any point has there ever been on you or Kyle’s part a consideration of ‘we’re just not gonna be able to catch back up and let’s just quit and do something else?’
Petty: (laughing) “I think the question has come up a lot of times but no. I guess we’ve been in this business longer than anybody, or as long as anybody and again we’ve had our ups and downs. No matter how low it got we kinda shifted in there and started again. In 1961 when I wrecked at Daytona and daddy wrecked at Daytona we had nothing. We didn’t have any racecars or anything but he sent me home and told me to get a car and get it all started again. That was one of the very lowest points, we were out of business and he said go home and get it going. We’ve been that way two or three times over Petty Enterprises career and we keep coming back, hard headed or what, but we’ve never considered closing the doors on Petty Enterprises. Probably as long as I’m taking a breath it would be hard for me to ever concede to that. It’s the kind of deal too that you’ve done this, you’ve done it so long, and you just want it to work. You’re not looking for the glory or the money or stuff; you just want to make a living out of it. You’ve been there, you’ve done that, you just sort of want to hold your pedestal at some kind of a level and we’d like for it to be little bit higher than what it is right now.”
Q: “Richard, you mentioned before the fast growth that the sport has been going through and lately there has been some debate over it slowing down a little bit with seats open in the stands and TV ratings struggling a little. Any thoughts on what’s going on there and why people may be slowing down a little bit in interest?”
Petty: “You know, that is a good question. Everybody has asked me that and nobody has come up with a particular answer but if you go back and look at NASCAR history, we’ve had waves that we’ve run all through the history of NASCAR. It started out in ’49 and the ‘50s and it grew up pretty good. In ’57, ’58 it went downhill then in ’59 it started back up a little bit then it goes up in the ‘60s then it goes down a little bit. I don’t know, I don’t know what the general public expects us to do and how things are working around that. I do know that everyday there is more competition for that entertainment dollar and racing is in the entertainment business just like baseball or football or whatever it may be. There is more competition out there to get that money or to get that fan so it gets more complicated I guess from that standpoint. I don’t see NASCAR falling off the face of the earth; I see it going into a lull. One of these days, somebody will come through in racing or some race cars will come through and regenerate the interest that NASCAR used to have and still does. There is always an opportune deal for somebody. There will be a Tiger Woods come through or something like that that really catches the public and they’ll start following racing more and more. It’s been that way forever and I don’t see it changing.”
Q: “We were just wondering, what does this mean to you guys to have to say goodbye to the area that you’re currently in, the Level Cross/Randleman area?”
Petty: “Well, we’re really not gonna say goodbye per say. The Petty family is not moving out of Level Cross, North Carolina. The Petty Enterprises compound will be there in some way, shape or form. We’ve looked at maybe moving the museum back into the race shop or the Richard Petty Driving experience. We build a lot of cars over there; we do a bunch of show cars. We’ve looked at maybe moving our show car business in there. The place is not going to close down completely. There might not be as many people running around but we’re not leaving Randolph County from that standpoint. We’re still going to be a community player; we just might not be playing as big as we have before.”
Q: “What do you think it means to the people in Randolph County for you guys to be moving your main operation out of the county after all these years?”
Petty: “A lot of them don’t even know we’re there probably but it’s like everything else you grew up with around. People don’t pay that much attention to what’s going on until it’s gone. I think now that if we do move and they find out that the racecars aren’t there I think that the people then will say, ‘Okay, we’ve lost something.” I hope that they look at it from that standpoint. Everything that goes around comes around and the progression of the way things grow and the way things need to change to get better or bigger or whatever. This is just life guys. After 59 or 60 years we’re trying to move some of our business on into another era. Its just like where we live, there used to be all these cotton mills, well the cotton mills went away but then a steel mill came in and a plastic company came in and took up the gaps so I just see that as an everyday process in life.”
Q: “Thank you Richard. As a follow-up, it seems like every time I’ve ever been to Level Cross up there the sky is absolutely beautiful, without a cloud in the sky. I’m wondering, I know you’ve had babies born there and all kinds of family deals but what are some of the best memories for people who have never been there who are listening coast to coast who have never been to Petty Enterprises. What has happened up there that have been some of the great memories of that shop area?”
Petty: “I think when people come in and see the shop and see we were born in the house right beside of it, they see it as a family business. It has always been a family operation and I think when you look at it from that standpoint or when fans look at it from that standpoint they can say ‘I have family.’ Most people look at family as the gathering deal of everything that happens in the world and that’s the way we Petty’s look at it. I think there are a lot of fans out there that say ‘okay, I can relate to this building here or them starting here on a dirt floor and just growing, taking the business and just growing, making another building and another building.’ So when you go there you see the history of racing, you see the history of the Petty family growing in one particular place. I guess from my standpoint there’s not been any one given thing that jumps right out at you. It’s just been a progression of 59 years of being in one place. Not that we’ve out-grown the place. I think that the territory has changed because if you go back and look at when we first started racing, you had Glen Wood and them, they were out of Virginia. Junior Johnson was out of Wilkesboro, we were out of Level Cross, Bud Moore was out of South Carolina. We were all independent operators that operated off the seat of our britches and out of our back pocket. We had no sponsors and you had no engineers or stuff so the drivers and the owner and mechanics were the engineers at that time. Over a period of time you’ve had bigger teams come in that really were not race-oriented people. They came in and said ‘there’s money in NASCAR, we need to say look, we’re race fans, we like racing and all that but it is not our primary business.’ When they came in, they came in with money that us racers didn’t have the opportunity to do because we were always in the racing world. They were out in a bigger world so they were able to get the sponsors and they were able to get the engineers, they could afford to do that. The Junior Johnsons, the Glen Woods, the Petty’s and the Moore’s weren’t in that world so it just outgrew us. From our standpoint, we were there when it grew into a bigger deal where it was worth the money of these guys to invest into coming in if you know what I’m tryin’ to say here. I’m just giving you the history of how racing developed out and really outgrew the real racers. Just like Richard Childress, Childress was independent and then he went out and got him a partner for awhile to try to supplement him to go in with the Roushs and the Hendricks and stuff. He made that transition and made it work. I was reluctant to make that transition.”
Q: “Richard, you mentioned the fans. A lot of people might look at this as a sad day with making the announcement. Is this a sad day for you?”
Petty: “It’s sort of an in-between deal, it’s a deal with you’re cutting traditions that you’ve been in a long time, for 60 years. But then it’s a jubilant day because you’re looking to do better, you’re looking at opportune things out in front of you. You’re looking at the opportunity to go and do some of the stuff that maybe we used to accomplish, that is our goal. It’s sort of like Green Bay. Green Bay used to be on top of the heap then they went down to the bottom of the heap then they’ve worked their way back up. The New York Yankees have done the same thing. I don’t know if we’re there but we’re putting ourselves in that position. We used to be at the top of the heap and we went down. We want to get back up there and do that again. We felt like we were sort of in a box. We were not going to be able to accomplish that where we were at under the same management and under the same way we were running business forever, we have to go into the new era of our business also.”
Q: “What kind of reaction do you expect from the racing community to the move?”
Petty: (Laughing) “From the racing community, they don’t ever know what we’re doing. We haven’t been as competitive as we have been in the past so I don’t think its really going to affect them, the racing community, as far as people that we race with on a day-to-day basis. I think that the fan base and stuff might look at us a little bit different in saying ‘okay, these guys are going to try.’ Hopefully some of them want us to do better. It’s sort of like rolling the dice. We’re just throwing this out here and hoping that we get some good numbers out of it and hoping that the racing public will see that we’re not just gonna step by the wayside here. We’re gonna still try to be competitive and go on with our business.”
Petty: “I would like to thank everybody for being concerned with us and working with us and being patient with us…thank you again.”