Petty, the car owner for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Aric Almirola (No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford) and Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford), talked about everything from his current team, brother, Maurice Petty’s recent election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, to how he evaluates new drivers and talent.
NASCAR Race Hub co-hosts Danielle Trotta and Steve Byrnes both sat down with Petty; and the following is what he had to say;
Danielle Trotta: Fans see you at the track every weekend. But I think some of the fans that watch the races from home want to know, what’s your involvement with the team on a day-to-day basis? What are your biggest priorities? What do like to get your hands around?
Richard Petty: I think they have me to pay the bills.
Trotta: They have you to pay the bills…
Petty: …right. I try to be in on a little bit of all of it – but not a whole lot on any one given thing. I’m sort of like the team leader when it comes to the PR part. I get involved some with the drivers, about what they need to do and all that stuff, but also the cars. I’m not there on a day-to-day basis, so it’s kind of hard for me to make decisions or get onto them what I don’t think is right because I don’t know what else they have done. I kind of walk a narrow line to try to keep from interfering with what they are doing; most of the time they do pretty good, but once in a while, I’ll get on the radio and say, ‘Hey guys, you all are way off on this.’ Overall, they’ve been doing pretty good. Trotta: We’ll start with this Gen 6 car; we want to know your thoughts halfway through the regular season, and the relationship with Roush-Fenway. It seems like you have the speed, you’ve wrapped your arms around this new car. What has the relationship been like, working hard at the shop… and the relationship with Roush and the Ford family?
Petty: Right now, Roush and us, both, are a little bit behind the other competitors. I think we started off pretty good, then they got better and we didn’t. I think, the last two or three races, I think the Fords have been really bad. I don’t think it’s any one given thing, it’s not the drivers, and it’s not the crew. It’s just a little here, a little there, a little over there, and it all adds up to a bunch. So, we’ve been having meetings and discussing it with Roush, and within RPM – even with the Penske operation with the Fords. We’re trying to regroup ourselves to try and recover what we thought we’ve lost. It’s like everything else, it’s not one given thing; it’s a bunch. If everybody contributes just a little bit, then we’ll be back in pretty good shape I think. We’ll just have to go on with it and see, but the last three or four races have been really bad for us. We were going along there, really doing good, finishing in the top 10 – everything looked good. Then all of a sudden, everything kind of slowed down. Hopefully, we’ll get it started again this week.
Trotta: You mention the four-straight top 10s; Aric Almirola had a wicked stretch there, knocking on victory lane’s door for Texas, Kansas, Richmond and Talladega. He’s 12th in points right now; some people don’t realize that he’s only been a regular Cup Series driver for two seasons. Are you impressed with what he’s showing you in the 43 car?
Petty: I was impressed with what he was doing when he was with one car for one week, two weeks or three weeks, then over in something else for another six weeks. I think once he got to Richard Petty Motorsports, he had a home. Before that, he was just bouncing around, and he really couldn’t spend all of his time concentrating on what he had to do. Once he said, ‘Okay, I have a base here. I have to prove myself; I’ve got to go do it,’ I think everybody, including myself, have seen improvements. Every race he gets just a little bit better and a little bit better. He’s working with the same people, under the same circumstances; so he’s got confidence in them, confidence in him, and it’s starting to show up.
Trotta: He’s (Marcos Ambrose) 23rd in points, I know he and (Crew Chief) Drew Blickensderfer are a little bit deep, but some road courses are coming up as well, and you guys sent the whole team out to test a Sonoma (Calif.). That’s quite costly, but you’re working hard on that road course package as well.
Petty: For two reasons really. Going back to Marcos, he’s running almost as good as Aric, but something always happens, and it happens to him. He’s had all kinds of off-the-wall stuff. We went to Sonoma and knowing that Marcos was pretty decent there, if he needed to pick himself up, but the big deal was to try to help Aric. Like me on road courses, kind of lost. I think they went out there and did some testing and Marcos was able to help. I think he learned some stuff on his own, but he was able to help Aric I think. They said he picked up at least a second over what he started at. From that stand point, it felt like we were in a lot better shape on both of them by going out and doing some testing.
Steve Byrnes: Let’s talk about the (NASCAR) Hall of Fame. Your dad’s in (Lee Petty); you’re in; your cousin Dale Inman is in; and just this class, your brother Maurice makes it in – affectionately known as ‘The Chief.’ What does that say about Petty Enterprises, and that little group of people that you had up in Level Cross, North Carolina? Petty: It’s a family affair. When NASCAR first started, we were probably the biggest family going in. We’ve stayed longer than most of the families. It’s so much different now, so business and stuff, but we never thought anything about it. There in Level Cross, Dale lived across the road there, we all lived right there. Throw a banana at each other and hit them. We just did what we had to do, what was in front of us. The big deal with us was there really weren’t a lot of other things going on, so our focus was nothing but race cars. In doing that, it made a complete team. How many Hall of Fames have the whole team in the Hall of Fame?
Byrnes: That’s what I’m saying…
Petty: That was the team (Petty Enterprises) for 20 or 30 years. They all stayed together. They argued, but they always made it work because we had one thing in mind; that was to go out, do the best we could and win races.
Byrnes: I guess what I was going to say, Richard, is that there are still some pretty big names, drivers that haven’t made it in; a Joe Weatherly, somebody like that who’s won championships. Yet here, and taking nothing away from Dale Inman, but he was your crew chief and Maurice built motors – it’s a tribute to the Pettys
Petty: This is the first time they’ve had an engine man get in. We’ve had the Nationwide (Series) people get in this time; a modified (driver); some owners, something like that. So, I think everybody thought it was time for an engine man. My brother (Maurice) was sort of like Dale (Inman), he kind of stood alone atop of what he was doing. There were a bunch of really good engine builders… my brother just (did) it for a longer period of time, won more races and had more success as an engine person. Back in the time, he didn’t get a lot of PR. The thing was done with his brother and with Dale (a crew chief), me as a driver, then the engine man was hardly ever mentioned. He was satisfied with that, you know, I’ll do my part, you do your part. With those three, it was sort of like one body with three brains, or visa-versa. We all thought on the same scale and he was happy just to go home in his own mind, and say, ‘Man, I built another winning engine.’
Byrnes: As long as there has been NASCAR, there’s been a Petty. How do you evaluate talent; what’s the kind of driver that Richard Petty Motorsports wants to hire?
Petty: We’d like to have a Richard Petty clone… I think.
Byrnes: …You just worried about driving race cars back in the day.
Petty: All I had to do was drive. I was not responsible to anything or anybody, except to family. We didn’t have a big… somebody who would put money in and we had to please them. So, you have to have a driver that’s more versatile now, than when I came along. When I came along, all you had to do was drive. You didn’t have to speak to (anybody), you didn’t have to sign autographs… you didn’t have to do anything. Now, you’re more into the show business, and your driver has to be multi-talented. He’s got to be able to meet people, he’s got to be able to sell the products; he’s got to be able to drive the race car. A lot of times, the drivers don’t get to do what they want to do as far as dedicating to nothing but driving that race car. Being with the crew; being at the shop; talking to the guys, going to the races with them; going out and eating with them; socializing with them – that made a tighter team. That is what our advantage was then; we slept together, eat together; everything was done as one group. Now, the driver comes into the race track, but he’s been out making two or three appearances, then he’s got to do this; and he still has a family to look after. He’s diversified so much that it’s really hard to be nothing but a race car driver. That’s what happens; I think a lot of the guys that come in, they’ve been running Saturday night, or on another circuit, and have been doing pretty good, but then when they get to the Cup stuff, there is so much more asked of them and they’ve not been there. A lot of the time, they don’t know how to make it all work to their advantage.
Byrnes: Looking at how the cars have evolved, do you think we have too many rules now? In other words, has it taken away some of the creativity of the mechanics? Has it taken away some of the ability of the driver?
Petty: It’s just so different. It’s so electronic now. Back in the day, we did everything by the seat of our britches. In other words, those boys, when they thought up something, they’d go try it. Bud Moore would; Junior Johnson, even Holman & Moody, when they had the Ford deal. Somebody would come in with an idea, and they would just try it.
Now, it’s got to go through engineers, through computers, through a bunch of different stuff and a lot of stuff doesn’t get tried. On the other hand, NASCAR has all of that kind of stuff, and they’ve tightened up on everything. Used to be, we had a template, and if it was within a half-an-inch, that was fine. Now, it’s down to thousandths. That means a lot more ingenuity goes in, it’s a lot more work for us; and we have to hire a lot more people to be on that scale. But, I don’t know…. right now you can’t turn it loose, you can never go backwards. I think NASCAR in the long run, has sort of let it get away from them because we don’t have the ingenuity of an individual. We have the ingenuity of companies, and money is what makes the company. So the guys with the most money, does the most part of it there. That’s probably one reason why NASCAR has tried to tighten everything up so much.