Richard Petty shows up at Indy Speedway UPDATE
Richard Petty was much more than a spectator Saturday when he returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Pole Day of the Indy 500.
|Richard Petty at Indy Saturday|
“The King” came to the world’s most famous racing facility as a car owner this time with his driver, John Andretti, prepared to make the top eleven qualifiers on the first day of time trials at the Brickyard. Andretti practiced in the No. 43 Richard Petty Window World Honda Dallara in the morning session, but he didn’t attempt a qualifying run Saturday afternoon.
Andretti and the three other Dreyer & Reinbold Racing drivers — Mike Conway, Milka Duno and Davey Hamilton — had their respective cars in line for qualifications late Saturday before the Speedway gun was shot at 6 p.m. Andretti’s car will be third in line for Sunday’s time trials. Conway, Duno and Hamilton’s machines are also set for early qualifying Sunday.
Petty kept busy in his four hours at the track Saturday by watching Andretti in practice, visiting the syndicated “Bob & Tom Show” for radio and television, holding a press conference, meeting with his old stock car rival, A.J. Foyt, and signing autographs for the racing fans.
The seven-time NASCAR champion met with Andretti, Window World executives and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing officials to discuss his Indy 500 program this month. Petty will return on Sunday, May 24, for the 2009 Indy 500. 05/09/09 PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome to the Economaki Press Conference Center. The crowd says it all. It's a big moment for us when Richard Petty visits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, particularly a great time that he is here in an ownership capacity. Richard, why don't you introduce Todd. Todd is a gentleman who I know is very involved in putting this program together for us.
RICHARD PETTY: Do what now?
SULLIVAN: Todd, introduce Todd. Todd has joined us here.
PETTY: Yeah, this is our sponsor guy. He's the reason we're here.
SULLIVAN: Just been introduced to me, said you were very instrumental in putting this program together. Talk to us about that real briefly.
TODD WHITWORTH: Well, I met John Andretti last year, and Window World hadn't been involved in motorsports whatsoever. John came up to see me, and we started talking about Indy last year and just couldn't quite get it put together. It was sort of if we could have everything in the world that we want to make this thing spectacular for us, for John who's a great, great friend of Richard Petty's and great for my company, Window World, if we could have everything we wanted, it would be to have Richard Petty on board with us.
So it didn't work out last year, but this year we're here, and to be here with the King our first time here is just everything we could ever dream of.
SULLIVAN: Obviously, we've been blessed by having the seven-time champion, 200-time winner with us and in a variety of capacities, particularly the Allstate 400. I know you've been a fan of what happens here in Indianapolis the month of May, a great crossover, I can't tell you how delighted we are to have you as a car owner. Talk about how that came together.
PETTY: We used to come up here 15-20 years ago with STP. We always came to qualifying, probably for 10 or 12 years I came every qualifying day because that was running our Cup stuff, and we didn't ever have time to come for the race. Basically last year I came up here on Race Day was the first time I've ever been to the "500." You know, last year I also got to go to the Kentucky Derby and you've been to the Super Bowl, you've been to World Series, been to the -- we finally, finally got to come to the biggest race there is here. It was quite a thrill just to see all the people, see all the excitement. You know, I've been here for all the 400s, but I'm used to the stock car stuff.
Just to be around the Indy crowd, seeing the cars and stuff, and I think what fascinated me about the Indy deal is the cars more than maybe the people or the circumstances. I've always been mechanical working on my own cars, and we started with stock cars and now we've got pretty much of a race car. But it's nothing like what the IndyCars are. So all of that put together, then we come back this time because, you know, John drove for us a couple times, we got to be good friends, and Window World is out of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, so that's a local operation. So all of it just come together, and we're back up here again pushing John on around the racetrack, see how he's doing.
SULLIVAN: We know there's a tight schedule here. Please use the microphone for your questions.
Q: Richard, even though this is a Dreyer & Reinbold car and you're listed as the entrant in it, I'm sure that there's a lot of things that you're just kind of standing back and observing. In a lot of ways would you like to be a little more involved and really understanding how a lot of these things work and the things that need to be done to get these cars to go faster, and especially how they try to do it in qualifying?
PETTY: Well, you know, from the mechanical standpoint, even my stock cars and stuff, I really don't get that involved in it because I can't be there every minute. You know, used to when I drove my own car and worked on my own car, everything that was done, I was right on top of it. I knew what the crews was doing and all that. It's hard for me to come in to IndyCars and even my stock cars and say you need to change this because it's going to be better or whatever. So try to hire the right people to do the job and then me stand back and see what goes on from there.
Q: Richard, did not at one time you were offered, I believe, by Andy (Granatelli) a ride here.
PETTY: Yeah, way back.
Q: It was quite a while ago.
PETTY: A.J. Foyt, we knew each other from way back, and I think I came up here one time and I think I made about two laps around the car and looked at it, and I said, "See y'all, guys, I'm going back to Level Cross, North Carolina." (Laughter)
Really, what happened, I was looking at the car and, you know, the stock car is great big room and stuff. So they stuff the driver down in there and had this little hole where he had accelerator, a brake and a clutch, and I said no way I can get my 11-and-a-halfs in there. He said, "Tell you what." He went over to his locker, and he got out a pair of 7-size shoes. He says, "You have to put these on." Nothing -- I said, "No way, man." So I'm out of here. So that was about as close as I come to ever be getting in an IndyCar.
Q: Richard, going back in the nostalgia, talk about the days when you were coming here eating Jimmy Voegen's Chicago hotdogs in the garage.
PETTY: We came with all the hoodlums out of Chicago with the STP guys. It was a lot of fun. They had been here forever, I guess, because I guess Andy and his crowd came and then Andy went away but the crowds still came. They were always big here. I guess they run, I guess Andretti won in '69 for the STP for the first time and then Johncock won and they've had a decent record here. But they were always, always big. Even though they sponsored my race car and was big in stock cars, they still was leaned a little bit to the Indy deal because that's what they grew up with. It was always a lot of fun, and they knew everybody. It didn't make any difference, they knew the shortcuts getting around, how to get in and out of town, all the eating places and all the beer places, they knew it all, man. (Laughter)
But it was just a fun, fun deal to be able to come up here and spend all day. You know, you had a lot of these guys that, the mechanics and stuff that go from stock cars to IndyCars or IndyCars to stock cars, so I think right now at Richard Petty Motorsports, I think we've got five or six guys, engineers and mechanics and stuff that came through the Indy situation. In fact, our chief engine man, I think he worked with Penske or he worked with somebody up here on two or three different winning cars. So the racing fraternity sort of just goes around, and it just makes it interesting to come back and see these people, and then I can go home and talk to some of my boys that have been here. So just makes it that much more interesting.
SULLIVAN: Just a quick note, if you could please project when you ask the question, make sure it gets piped upstairs well.
Q: Richard, you've got a guy on one of your NASCAR teams that was very, did very well in Champ Cars. How do you think A.J. would do if given the opportunity? I know there are scheduling conflicts with Charlotte, but how do you think A.J. Allmendinger would do up here?
PETTY: A. J. is a racer, and all he sees is getting in the race car and running hard. We've not been able to give him equipment to equal his ability yet, though we're working on it. But he is very much of a racer. You know, a lot of people want to race and think they're racers and stuff like that, but this guy was born to race. So I think he would be good in anything that had wheels on it, whether it was two wheels or four wheels. The trouble I had with him is keeping all four wheels on the ground. (Laughter)
Q: Window World, how are you promoting your company through racing? I know you are in NASCAR as well, now you're in here. How does your company utilize the racing that you're into?
WHITWORTH: Well, it reaches out to the fan base of racing both in NASCAR and Indy. The fan base there is also our customer base. So we're reaching out to the people that are buying our products. And now in the economic climate and all that that everyone is talking about, is a wonderful time for people to buy our products because they're energy-saving products. We're saving homeowners over a half-billion dollars a year in energy savings currently with past customers. With the new tax stimulus plan and all that, people can replace their windows with our products and qualify for that, replace their windows and get up to $1,500 back in tax credits.
So this year was absolutely the perfect time for us to get involved in motorsports and get our name out there. And again, who else better to do it with than with Andretti and Richard Petty.
Q: Richard, could you just talk a little bit about how you've seen John Andretti mature as a driver from when you first started with him to how he's driving now?
PETTY: Yeah, you know, we came up here and ran some exhibition runs with the stock cars and John had been running the IndyCars, I guess, and they run, I don't know, seven, eight laps, had eight or 10 people running at one time, and John crashed them all going into one corner. So that was my introduction to John. (Laughter)
But, you know, and just over a period of time, you know, when you meet people sometimes you just meet them. Then other people you're interested in and then you follow their career and all that stuff. And John's personality sort of went along with our stuff, so we kept an eye on John. He came and run some stock cars with us and stuff, and then we was running a road race somewhere and we didn't have a driver and called John, wanted to know if he would drive the car. And again, the deal, the personalities, I think, just clicked. Sometimes on a racetrack we wasn't doing that good but we had a lot of fun doing it. As long as STP was paying the bills, we was in good shape, man. (Laughter)
But we just got to be good friends. So when this opportunity came up, in fact he talked to me last year right before the race, and he was talking to Window World and they just -- it came up too late and he wasn't able to put it together. So I told him, you know, if you get another chance. So quick as the race was over last year, he started working on all of us trying to get ready for this year. So I don't know, about a couple months ago he said, "Hey, man, I got it all put together." I said, "OK, come in and tell me what you got going." Then I contacted all these boys with the car and all that stuff and said, "OK, what do we have to do to sort of get involved in it?" So it all worked out. So now we've got to do is get the car in the race and go out and have a good race.
Q: Richard, you've talked about the history of many of the tracks you've raced at and visited. When you come to a track like this, when you can think back on that first visit, what is it that really strikes you about the Speedway, particularly in terms of the history?
PETTY: The first time I came here was 1954, OK? We had, my dad run a race in Kalamazoo or somewhere and we came back through here and was talking to Firestone about getting some tires for the stock cars and all that stuff. And you know, I was just blowed away. I'm probably 16 years old, something like that, 15 or 16 years old. So, you know, I can remember listening to the races and stuff on the radio crawling up under the race car, working on it and stuff like that, but I had never been here. Once I got here, but the first time that we really came to watch the qualifying and stuff, wasn't none of this modern stuff here, they still had the old garage areas and, you know, it was like -- I told them it was sort of like me going out behind the house, looked like a bunch of barns for horses and cows and stuff. Then you come back and you see all the deals of modernizing the racetrack, you've got a golf course, you've got a road course. So just, I guess time took care of everything. Everybody sort of modernized the deal. You've still got the same racetrack as far as the way it's shaped, but everything else is different. They've got the new soft walls, did a super job in putting down the asphalt, making a real smooth racetrack. So, you know, I guess if anything from when I first came to now, it's just growed up a little bit more, and it's just that much more impressive to me.
SULLIVAN: Before we go with a question, we want to acknowledge Dale Inman is with us and he's going to be recognized at Darlington, we understand. Mr. Inman one of the great legends. How about a round of applause for Dale Inman. Equally as famous as the King. (Applause)
PETTY: Dale, for some of you who know a little bit and not a lot, Dale is my crew chief on seven of my championships and seven Daytonas. Me and him was together throughout my career. Then he went to work there for three or four years and worked for Terry Labonte and won another championship. So he's won eight championships from a crew chief deal. You know, there's nobody even close. I think maybe somebody might have won three. So, you know, he's out there by hisself on that deal.
Q: Richard, one time you and I were chatting in the garage area, and I said, "What's the difference between a racer and a driver?" And you said, "I was a racer." I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "It wasn't pretty, but I won. I went to win." Are there drivers of your caliber still around today that are racers as opposed to drivers?
PETTY: Yeah, yeah, you know, all the good drivers that's out here today, all the drivers that make it through Cup racing, they're really good drivers or they'd never get here. But a lot of them are not good racers, they're not winners. And you know what makes that? I haven't got a clue. If I did, I'd get one of them and put them in my car. (Laughter)
But you, you know, it's just life. Some people just rise a little bit above other people. It's not that these guys on one on one are getting around the racetrack or qualifying, they're great drivers or they wouldn't be able to do what they're doing. But a lot of them, I guess, are just not winners. I won't say that they -- and I classify that as they're not racers. But, you know, you've watched a lot of people, if you watch them and under certain circumstances how the people act and react, then the winners know what to do and the good drivers don't know what to do so they don't wind up winning a lot of races.
Q: Richard, you told me about 20 years ago that had there been no Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there would have probably been no NASCAR. It was probably 35, 36 years this place had been running the Indy 500 before NASCAR was ever created. I think you were talking about that big of a race gave Bill France Jr. ideas what he wanted to try to emulate. If you could talk a little about that and your thoughts on how this place has really been the centerpiece of all racing in the United States.
PETTY: Yeah, you go back and read the history of there was over what, 200 auto makers here in Indy, and it was the capital of making cars. So somebody comes up with the idea, 'Hey, if we're going to do that, why not make a track or something so these guys can test on?' Well, that sort of went by the wayside and then wound up just making a complete racetrack out of the situation.
I think it probably got a lot of the different things started. I know when they built Darlington in 1950, they were after a 500-mile race because they said look, Indy runs a 500-mile race, we've got to run a 500-mile race. That was the beginning of our superspeedway era. Up to that time the biggest thing we run was a half-mile dirt. That was about it in the South.
So when you look back and you look at what started racing as far as in the United States even though people were racing, they raced Saturday night and stuff, the Indy 500 always stood out way above anything else. And so I think France looked at this, looked at Indy, and he said, 'OK, we build Daytona, we could compete.' They built Charlotte. They was trying to compete with the Indy 500.
So in doing that, this let NASCAR grow, grow, grow, grow, grow. When it really came down to it, NASCAR was able to put on a bunch of small Indy races all over the country where the Indy deal is still Indy. It's either here or you don't even -- you just wait until next year if you miss this race.
Q: Richard, other than qualifying for the "500," what will you consider a successful race for your team? What are you looking at? What are your expectations for the "500?"
PETTY: You know, just a good finish. I think that knowing John it's not, doesn't run with these cars all the time, doesn't -- he understands what's going on, I think, but he gets so enthusiastic about the deal. So we have to calm him down sometimes. The big deal is I think that all of us' expectation is go out and put on a decent show and have a good finish at the end of the race. You know, in my operation, deal, if he could finish in the top 10, that would be a big, big boost for him and for our team and for Window World because that's hard to do, to run 500 miles and not have any trouble. But if you go 500 miles and outrun a few people, that makes you feel even better.
SULLIVAN: We know Richard is busy, we'll take the final question right here.
Q: Richard, this seems to be a pretty big race for you, have you got plans for the future for the IndyCar? Have you got plans for the future in --
PETTY: No, this was just sort of a one-shot deal, guys. If we come up and win the race -- (Laughter)
WHITWORTH: Next year.
PETTY: Circumstances can change. Right now we sat down and worked out a situation and said, "OK, we're going to do it, you know." Again, if we had a little success here, we'll liable to get a little more interested. But right now we're just looking at doing what we're going to do this year and getting the very best out of it, and then we'll add up all the chips when it's over with and see where we go from there.
SULLIVAN: I just want to end by saying one of the neatest things I saw last year was the recognition of the King at Chicagoland Speedway at the NASCAR race and I worked in the PA booth and I could see the television feed. What a lot of people don't know, all those drivers came out with cowboy hats and introductions, and the neat thing was watching and looking behind the stage the current stars of the NASCAR taking their cowboy hats up to have the King autograph them. That said it all. Welcome to Indianapolis, Richard.
PETTY: Thank you, guys. (Applause)