Interview with Kyle Petty


August 11, 2004

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Kyle Petty

Kyle Petty, a 44-year-old driver from Randleman, N.C., will make career start No. 700 on Sunday at Watkins Glen. Petty has eight wins and eight poles in his 699 previous Cup starts, and one of those wins came at Watkins Glen in 1992. In 16 starts at The Glen, Petty has scored four top-10 finishes.

ARE YOU PLANNING ON MAKING 700 MORE STARTS? ďIíd like to count backwards from 700 to where I started and do it all again. I think any time you run a lot of races, you never think about how many youíre running. Youíre always looking to the next one. Itís pretty cool to have run this many races, but youíve got to remember I started a long time ago. I started when I was 18. Iíve missed races because of wrecks, and Iíve missed races because I wasnít fast enough. Iíve missed races with Felix and them just because when I went to drive for him we cut back to half a season. Itís exciting to be in a business and be in a league where you can be with Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd and guys like that who are still out there running and have over 800 starts. Itís pretty cool to be in a sport where you can stick around that long.Ē

COMMENT ON BEING A RACING AMBASSADOR ďI think the term ambassador gets used just because youíve been around for so long. It gets passed on from one generation to the next, and weíre the older group thatís here now along with Dale Jarrett and guys like that. I think your perspective on life changes. I think thatís obvious to myself through the camp and some other stuff we have going on away from the racetrack. Racing is what we do. Thatís my life. Thatís what Iíve always done. Thatís what my grandfather and my father and Adam after me came along and did. Like I said before, itís a family business. This is what we do, and this is the core of what we do. I think weíre blessed to be in this sport at a time when you can as you mature and as you get a little bit older, you can use this vehicle to other means. What I mean by this is like what Dale Jarrett does with some of his charity work and the camp and things like that. Weíre able to use it as a platform to not only do what we love to do, which is drive racecars, but to maybe make a broader impact on other peopleís lives and maybe on society in some ways. For me, the importance, and I think it shifts, but as you get older your family is a lot more important and what goes on away from the racetrack is just as important.Ē

COMMENT ON IDEA OF NASCAR AS A DEMONSTRATION SPORT IN OLYMPICS ďIn a lot of ways, as bizarre of things I do sometimes, Iím still a purist on some things. To me, the Olympics are what they are. Theyíre gymnastics, track and field events, running and things like that. I think the more we get outside that realm the more we dilute some of that. Would it be cool to do the Olympics and have a motorsports category in the Olympics? Yeah, but Iíve got to admit that stock cars are probably not going to get it done for the Olympics because they donít run stock cars everywhere. They do run Formula One car and things like that. Thereís a lot of emphasis on the mechanical side of it. I know that stick and ball sports the athletes donít just use the stick and ball. They use a lot of other things, too, but I would hate to see our sport as itís grown to be a sport, be categorized as an exhibition sport. From that perspective, Iíd just rather stay the way we are and sit at home and watch the Olympics on NBC.Ē

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT YOUR FIRST START? ďI remember I didnít have a clue more than anything else. My first start, I went to Daytona and ran an ARCA race. Then I went to Charlotte and wrecked a car trying to practice, then I went to Daytona and wrecked a car trying to qualify, then went to Talladega. My first NASCAR (Cup) start was at Talladega. Iíll never forget it. We ran unrestricted. I qualified like 18th or 19th and started right beside Bobby Allison and I thought, Ďman, it doesnít get any better than this.í To be standing in the pits one week and to be out there driving against Bobby Allison and Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Darrell Waltrip, guys like that at 18 years old, it doesnít get any better than that. Then I realized it about 15 or 20 laps they lapped me the first time. That was pretty wild because I thought I was running as hard as I could go. I think I ended up finishing ninth or 10th in the race, but when the race was over with and I got out of the car, I was exhausted. Here comes my father and Cale and Baker and those guys and theyíre over 40 at the time and youíd think they hadnít been through nothing. I realize after all these years that Talladega was a simple place to drive. It wasnít that hard, but what I remember most was that a bunch of old guys spanked you really hard and they did it in a simple way. I thought it was pretty tough, but it wasnít as tough, looking back, as I thought it was.Ē

COMMENT ON YOUR COUNTRY MUSIC CAREER ďI never stepped away. I was still driving the car when I was doing the music stuff, and Iíll say the same thing today I said then. At the time, when I was doing the music stuff, I was driving the car for the Wood Brothers and that was my No. 1 job. I enjoy music. I still play the guitar and piano. I was playing at camp this morning as a matter of fact, so I still enjoy that, but the music was like a guy that goes and plays golf on the weekend or goes hunting and enjoys getting up at 4 oíclock in the morning and goes hunting like Earnhardt used to do and then coming to the racetrack at 7 or 8 oíclock and practicing and doing a dayís work. It was an outlet, something to release the stress from, and thatís kinda the way music was for me. I did it for a year and a half, two years and then one day I woke up and realized that if I didnít stop it was going to turn into another job and I really didnít want another job. I had the job I wanted to do and that was driving the racecar. I walked away from the music stuff, and Iíve been pretty much focused on the motorsports side ever since.Ē

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A PETTY? ďIíve never been anything else so I canít tell you. Itís like the question, whatís it like to have Richard Petty as a father? I donít know. Heís the only father Iíve ever had. I thought I grew up with a normal life. Looking back and traveling around the country to racetracks every weekend, itís pretty abnormal really. I feel very blessed to have grown up in a family and to have had my fatherís guidance and my motherís and my grandparentsí. The foundation they gave for us, not only for what we do on the racetrackÖ. Like I said before, driving a racecar is what we do. Thatís not who we are. Who we are is what goes on away from the racetrack, and I think what my father has done through the years with the fans and other areas of the sport has pretty much spoken for itself, and itís more important for me to be that kind of Petty than it is to be the one on the racetrack.Ē

IS THE 700 MILESTONE IMPORTANT FOR YOU? ďIím sure when I look back it will be. I didnít think 500 was going to be a big deal, but looking back 500 was a pretty cool deal. I was looking through some stuff the other day and when I was on this conference call I figured Ray had just run out of Dodge drivers to get on the conference call so he called me up. I didnít know it was my 700th start to be honest with you, but it will be pretty cool. Terry is at 800 plus and Ricky Rudd and those guys all started in í79 when I did. Theyíve all been more successful and run a lot more races, but maybe sometime I can catch up to those guys.Ē

WHATíS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MOMENT IN RACING? ďThe biggest moment for me is watching Adam race, bar none. Watching the tape of him winning his first ASA race and being at Charlotte when he won his ARCA race and just being with him when he ran his late model stockcar and stuff. For me all of that combined, just watching another career start was a big moment.Ē

SHOULD ROAD COURSE RINGERS BE ALLOWED TO RUN? ďI think they should be allowed to come any time they want to come. I believe guys like Boris Said and Robby Gordon is a ringer, if you want to call them ringers, because he is incredible. I think Boris and Ron Fellows and Scott Pruett and guys like that make us better road racers. There are no if, ands and buts about it. They make you elevate your game to compete with them. We can talk points, and you look at it and say, is it bad for those guys to come in and take points? Yeah, in a lot of ways, it may be. Some teams probably look at it and complain about it and say yeah. But, itís just as bad to tow to California and run all the races like Kirk Shelmerdine and some of those guys did, and then bring ringers in at Indianapolis and take their place. Those guys have put on a show for NASCAR all year long. You can call them field fillers. You can call Ďem whatever you want to, but theyíve been there week in and week out to help NASCAR put on a show. A couple of teams bring extra cars and extra drivers and they bring drivers from the outside like Leffler and guys like that. They have every right to be at Indianapolis, but at the same time, they knock some of those guys out and they take points away from those guys. Points are important to those guys and so is the monetary factor at places like Daytona and Indianapolis, so I think the way NASCAR is set up where itís open to anybody with a car and wants to drag it to the racetrack and pay the entry fee, and has a driver capable of coming out here and has a team capable of running, it ought to be open. I think thatís what separates NASCAR and the way we run from a lot of other sports.Ē

CAN TEAMMATE A HELP TEAMMATE B ON THE TRACK RUNNING FOR POINTS? ďYou probably believe Elvis is still alive and the conspiracy with Kennedy, too. Anything is possible. Youíve got 43 cars running 200 mph and somebody is going to run into somebody at some point in time. Do I think I race against guys that would take other people out over the points? No, I donít believe that. I think the integrity of the Roush drivers or the Hendrick drivers and guys like that, I think those guys have enough integrity and respect the sport and the history of the sport not to cause that type of controversy. I donít look at it that way. We all have teammates, but this is not a team sport in that sense. This is not roller derby where one guy scores points and another guy is the blocker. Itís not that type of sport. When that day comes when teammates start taking out other drivers, then I think the best thing for Petty Enterprises is to close its doors and go somewhere else because the best part of the sport has been lost.Ē

IS IT IRONIC THAT YOUR 700TH START IS COMING ON A ROAD COURSE?  ďI do enjoy road courses. I hated Sears Point this time because I had the flu while I was out there and all I could really do was ride around. I got food poisoning the Saturday night before the race, so I really was sick as a dog out there. This is really going to be my one and only road course race of the year as far as Iím concerned. I love Watkins Glen. I wish we had more road courses on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup series. I love the Grand American Division. Iím trying to put together a team for next year to run some races and continue on down the road with that, but it is cool you hit one milestone at a place you actually enjoy. I could hit this milestone at Darlington, and I think everyone pretty much knows my reaction to Darlington. Thatís not my favorite place. It is nice to go to a place you enjoy running.Ē

IS THE GRAND AM TEAM THE FIRST STEP FOR AN EXIT FROM NEXTEL CUP RACING? ďItís the first step toward branching out and trying to expand Petty Entereprises in some other areas beside NASCAR. Weíve had a Busch car and a truck and those are great divisions. The heart and soul of our business is the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, but with the Grand American Series and what theyíve done this year and over the last couple of years with the Daytona Prototype Series, and where road racing in America in general and especially sports car racing in America in general is right now, thereís a strong growth potential with that series and especially the race tracks they run. Especially being a part of the NASCAR family and NASCAR community, I think that can grow into something. You canít alienate that part of the market. As far as sponsors and promotions and stuff like that, contrary to popular belief everybody in the world is not infatuated with cars going in circles. They like for them to go left and right sometimes, so weíd like to be a part of that from a promotional, marketing and racing standpoint.Ē

COMMENT ON FUTURE OF SPORTS COMPACT RACING ďI think NASCAR started a program 20-30 years ago, and they called it the Baby Grand and then they called it the Goodyís Dash and then they called it the Daytona Dash and now they call it something entirely different and it never caught on. The people that like NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing like to see big V-8s with a big throaty sound and they like to see those things running 200 mph doing what they do or 100 mph at Martinsville, whatever it might be. They like to see those things doing what they want to do. To try to change the formula we run right now or to branch off in a different direction, that might be somewhere down the road. It may be somewhere down the road with the bigger greenhouse car or fuel injection and some of the stuff they come with and the time they choose to come with it, but the formula we have now is pretty much a great formula and I donít think it should be changed that much.Ē

WHAT MEMORY JUMPS OUT AT YOU? ďThere are so many memories. Itís funny. I was talking to some of the nurses from Daytona Beach this morning and when people ask me who my regular family doctor is, I just tell them itís the infield medical center at Daytona because of how many times Iíve been there. I was born in June 1960 and went to Daytona for the first time in July and Iíve been going twice a year ever since. If I need a physical or something I just wait until I get to Daytona. Being with my father and watching him win so many races, and being a part of winning teams like SABCO with Felix Sabates and working with guys like Gary Nelson and John Wilson and Robin Pemberton. I have so many memories. Iíve been around way too long to have a personal memory like that. My greatest memories of racing are being with Adam and being with him with his late model stock car and watching him win at Charlotte and his ASA car and that type of stuff. Watching something I truly love and watching it pass from one generation to the next those are the memories I still carry and cherish from this sport.Ē

DO YOU THINK ITíS TIME FOR ROAD COURSES TO GET MORE LOVE? ďMore and more of the younger drivers absolutely love road course racing. I think thatís pretty cool. The one reason I think road course racing for us, and youíve got to go back and look at the history of the sport. We ran Riverside three times in one year. That was our road course extent. We used to run January, June and November at one race track. Then they added Watkins Glen and we thought, Ďmy God, nothing can be harder at Watkins Glen.í Then they added Sears Point, and you thought, Ďmy God, people actually drive on these places.í Whatís this like? The problem was if you go back and look when Dale Earnhardt started or when Terry Labonte and Ricky Rudd and those guys came along, most of the guys at that time didnít jump into this sport until their late 20s or early 30s, so they had already established themselves as oval track drivers. All of the habits and all of the techniques they used were honed on short half-mile or quarter-mile tracks or mile tracks at the most. They were really oval track drivers and they didnít take kindly to running road courses because it was something that was totally foreign to them. Now youíve got guys jumping into the sport that came from open wheel and sports cars and at the same time youíve got guys 21, 22 or 23 years old. Theyíve got three or four years experience in a car, but most of their stuff has been in go-karts. So, for them to jump in at a road course, itís something new, exciting and a lot of fun. From that perspective, road course racing for a Kasey Kahne, Casey Mears, Ryan Newman, guys like that, itís exciting. They love it. Go back a few years when the Burtons first came along, they hated it because they grew up running a different type of race. I think when you look at it itís just the sport has evolved. The problem is there are not a lot of road courses in America that stock cars fit on and can put on a decent show. Watkins Glen is a great show, and itís a great place for us to race. We enjoy racing there. Itís a good TV package, and it comes across as a good race. Sears Point used to be good and they changed the track a little bit. I think itís good for spectators on-site, but itís not as good for the competitors and itís not as good for TV as it used to be. If they can find difference racetracks around the country and maybe add one or two, but our plate is pretty full right now. Weíre market racing now. Weíre not necessarily road course racing or oval track racing. We have to go to different markets and race wherever they put a track, and there are not a lot of people building road courses in a Seattle or New York market right now. Theyíre all talking ovals.Ē

TALK ABOUT CHALLENGES OF BUILDING A TEAM ďThere are definitely challenges because no matter what I do or what J.D. (Gibbs) does or what anybody does that takes over from a founder in any corporation, it doesnít make any difference what he does, A certain amount of people in the company are going to bypass you and go straight to your father. Iím sure people at Gibbs Racing right now donít even bother to ask J.D. They just go right around him and Joe. Itís important for the founder or that person to understand that theyíve relinquished some control or at least publicly relinquished some control and they donít cut your legs out from under you from that standpoint. I will say at Petty Enterprises my father does an incredible job of doing that. He stands behind me even when the decision was wrong. He may get in the office and tell me it was wrong, but publicly and in front of the guys in the shop he stands behind you. There are plusses and minuses. It always seems like if youíre the bossís son, youíve got to do twice the job as someone else who comes in. Just because your last name is Gibbs or Petty or whatever it might be and youíre taking over from the last generation, people look at you and say you just got it handed to you because you were born into this. You didnít work for it. J.D. and those guys do a great job. We do a lot of stuff where we talk back and forth and have to do a lot of stuff with them and have in the past. Theyíre pretty straight shooters. When you deal with people who say what they mean and mean what they say, itís easy to deal with them, and theyíre good at that.Ē

COMMENT ON CONFLICTING SPONSORS IN VICTORY LANE ďIím going to be totally honest and tell you I donít understand it. Maybe Iím so naÔve that I donít understand it. Weíve had these issues in NASCAR for years and years and years. We went through a few years there where it seemed like every other race you raced it was either a Budweiser or Miller race. Every time they had a Budweiser race, Rusty would win, so you had the Miller guy standing in Budweiser victory lane. There was never an issue with it. Rusty had his picture taken with Budweiser distributorships and Budweiser may be sitting on his car or whatever and you just didnít acknowledge. I think now for some unknown reason groups out there have decided to acknowledge it. I watched the Jimmie Johnson thing on TV, and if Jimmie hadnít set the Loweís thing up there or tried to knock off the POWERade, I never would have never noticed the Powerade was there. The best thing to do in a lot of cases is just to ignore it. If they donít want to get out of the car, donít get out of the car. Let them interview you in the car. It doesnít make any difference, I think in a sport thatís grown to the point this sport has grown for us to be arguing what goes on a car and what goes on in victory lane and here and there is so small, itís ridiculous for us to be talking about it. There are bigger issues out there for the whole sport in general. Itís tough to balance that. Thereís a line of respect here, too, I think youíve got to look at. I drive the Sprint car and we would go run an ALLTEL race. That wouldnít mean ALLTEL didnít want the Sprint car in the race. They respected the fact that we as competitors had sponsors. We had to respect the fact that they as racetracks have sponsors for the racetracks. They have to make a living, too. Sometimes we think they make more than a living, but they have to make a living, too. Itís important for them to sell the sponsorship for that racetrack. Theyíre not going to sell sponsorship to a racetrack that doesnít conflict with somebody out there on the track. NASCAR is also in the sponsorship business, and theyíre not going to sell sponsorship to NASCAR that doesnít conflict with somebody out there, so if I expect the racetrack to respect my sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola or Georgia-Pacific or Dodge or whoever it might be, then Iíve got to respect their business practices and the way they did it. The victory lane stuff, once the car comes through the gate and goes through inspection, itís NASCARís car. Itís under their jurisdiction. Wherever they want to push it, whatever they want to do to it, wherever they want to set it, they have the right to check it even at 2 oíclock in the morning. If weíre not there and they want to open up the gate and go look at our cars, thatís their right. You relinquish that stuff when you roll through. Some of this stuff, weíre being a little Junior Highish. I think we need to drop it and move on to something more important.Ē

ARE THE LITTLE GUYS GETTING PUSHED OUT? ďIf you go back five or six years, we had 46 cars trying to make it. Then the next year there were 43 or 44 and then the next year there were 39. Weíve been losing two or three full-time cars almost every year for the last three or four years. Call me crazy but from where I come from they call that a trend. Youíve got to be a little bit concerned with that part of it. I think people are concerned from the standpoint of the haves getting richer and the have nots getting poorer and the separation between the front of the field and the back of the field getting greater and greater. But at the same time, when you look at it and it appears that way, most Cup races the spread from the fastest car to the slowest car is four or five tenths. When you look at that you say, ĎMy God, howíd the guy with $20 million do it and the guy with $2 million do almost the same thing when it comes to qualifying and that stuff. I think spread out over the season you get further behind, but hopefully as the economy turns around as business begins to pick up and people begin to see the value in NEXTEL Cup racing and see the value and what they see for their dollar whether youíre Coca-Cola or Dodge or whoever you are, and you see you can spend a dollar and get four dollars in return, then the money will flow back. When the money flows back youíll see teams at the lower end of the spectrum and donít have the financial means to compete on a regular basis, theyíve begin getting their share of the pie. A million dollars to a team at one end of the field will help it a lot more than a million dollars to a team on the other end of the field, and I think that parity will come back a little bit.Ē

WHATíS IT LIKE RACING THE YOUNG GUNS? ďI think when you look at Ďem, itís funny. When youíve been around as long as I have you start to compare people with other people. I compare Matt to David Pearson. I think Matt drives exactly the way David Pearson used to drive. Thatís a compliment in every sense of the word. I think the thing is as these guys come along itís an honor and pleasure to compete against guys with that much talent. Just like I said about the road race guys, when you bring in guys that understand road racing, it makes you elevate your game. In any sport or anything you do, when you bring in another generation or another group of kids who have that excitement and that unbridled passion to go out and run as hard as they can run, then it keeps the fire burning in you to try to run just as hard as they do. I think from that perspective itís great to be in a sport where after all these years instead of one driver trickling in a year weíve had a huge influx of young talent like guys like Kasey Kahne and guys like that that will come to the Dodge program. You look at that and say what a great time to be involved in a sport thatís as healthy as itís ever been financially and talent wise. They keep you on your toes. Jimmie has been kicking butt regularly and Kasey has been knocking on the door week in and week out. Casey Mears has been on the pole with the Ganassi Dodge the past couple of weeks. It makes it tougher. When you get over 40, you start looking back to see whoís coming.Ē

HOW MUCH LONGER DO YOU PLAN TO RACE? ďI donít know. Iíve always said Iíll wake up one day and it wonít be fun anymore. I feel very blessed to be able to drive and be around the people. I enjoy the people in racing as much as anything, being in the garage around the PR people and the crew and everybody. Theyíre a good group of people. For us, this is a family business and the business will survive whether a Petty drives the car or whether a Petty doesnít drive the car. Iíd like to drive for a number of more years to be able to run around and keep the camp out there and keep some cash flowing to the camp and keep that in the forefront so we can keep it up and running and build an endowment for the camp. At the same time, weíre still trying to win races and trying to build Petty Enterprises back with Jeff Green and those guys and with Dodge so that we can win some races. Weíll keep plugging along and driving and one day Iíll wake up and say, ĎIím not helping and itís not fun anymore.í That might be the last time you see me. I might not ever come back to a racetrack, but thatís a few years off.Ē

WHATíS THE BIGGEST CHANGE? ďThere have been so many changes. Everybody makes such a big deal out of the points championship and the points system being changed. I was talking to my father the other day and heís won seven championships. He won seven championships in five different points systems. That shows that NASCAR was willing to change the point systems at some point in time. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the first time the point system has been changed. I think you look at the technology that has been brought into the sport in the past few years. Goodyear has constantly evolved the tires. The aero is constantly evolving. The racetracks and the racing facilities we go to like Kansas, Chicago and California are state of the art. All thatís been upgraded, but the biggest change is that we used to race in front of about 50,000 people a week. Now youíre doing it in front of 10-15 million people a week when you bring TV into it. I think when you look at that, the popularity and notoriety of the sport have been the biggest changes through the years.Ē

WHAT DO YOU THINK GENERATED THE VICTORY LANE CONTROVERSY? ďI donít know if itís a driver thing or a sponsor thing or a team thing. I think you would have to go individual. I couldnít and wouldnít comment on it, but I think youíd have to go to Jimmie and Jeff and some of those guys and ask them personally. When I come into your house then I should respect your household and what you do in your house and respect your ways in your house. When we go to Indy or Watkins Glen or wherever and they have certain ways of doing things, then we have to respect that. I think a lot of it boils down toÖ. We can call it cash or greed or respect or we can call it a number of things, but as professionals I think we need to act professionally. I donít think in some cases things have been handled professionally. Thatís just my personal opinion. Thatís not a knock on Jeff or Jimmie or their sponsors or NASCAR or anybody. I just donít think itís been handled professionally the way itís been done. Weíll get over it and in six or seven months yaíll wonít even remember anything about it, so that doesnít make any difference.Ē

COMMENT ON BRAKE LIGHTS ON RACECARS ďMost of the time you see a guyís brake light, youíve already run over him. Thatís the way it is on the highway, too. I donít think brake lights and stuff like thatÖ. For me, thatís a non-issue. When you get to this point, not that some things wonít help, but when you get to this point youíre already set in so many habits. I wouldnít be looking at the brake light in front of me. You look so far ahead in a racecar. When I get to the corner, Iím already looking to the middle of the corner. When Iím in the middle, Iím already looking down the straightaway. You look so far ahead youíre really not paying attention to the car in front of you. Thatís why people run over each other because youíre looking so far ahead. Youíre looking past the guy in front of you. Thatís one reason at Martinsville or New Hampshire or places like that, you count on those countdown numbers on the wall to get you in the corners so you know where your lift points are, and everybody has basically the same lift points except in qualifying. I think to add stuff like that is really just something else in the car that can blow up or short out or whatever that weíd have to fix. I think itís best to leave that to road cars.Ē

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