The Dish On Petree

Andy Petree's sponsorship troubles are exactly the story the sport needs right now.

Seems a bit meanspirited to say so, but that's not the intention. When one steps back, it's a story that's got everything a fan looks for: drama, despair, hope and the potential for a fairytale outcome that could keep folks talking for years.

Petree, of course, is the Winston Cup winning crew chief-turned-team-owner who is looking for sponsorship for one of his two teams. A good guy with an excellent reputation in the sport, Petree is in need of upwards of $8 million to keep a second team with Mike Wallace going.

His other team, with driver Bobby Hamilton, is set with sponsorship for this season. Wallace is going to Daytona on Petree's dime, unless something changes in the coming days and weeks.

On one level, Petree's situation is a microcosm for society these days.

Midway through last season, with the economy swirling downward, his then-sponsor Oakwood Homes decided to leave the business. Petree set out in a terrible economy on a quest to convince a company to spend money in racing.

Then on Sept. 11 terrorists struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Companies that were struggling before were now hurting badly.

Taking a chance on a racing sponsorship for some companies was instantly removed from the mix.

So just like millions of American's hurt by the aftermath of attacks, Petree's business is, too.

Now, with less than a month before Daytona, Petree is stuck spending his time looking for money, rather than focusing all of his time working on his cars.

Sponsorship issues are a regular part of racing. What's unusual here is Petree's team has won, and is generally in a position to win.

“This is a team that has never missed a Winston Cup race for the five years I've owned it,” Petree said. “I feel like we're in a position to deliver, it's the economy that's got it wrenched down.”

Surely, one could argue the price of racing has gotten too high and that asking a company for $8 million is part of the problem. On top of that $8 million, of course, a company might spend another $8 million or more to promote the program off the track. To that end, Petree isn't on the high end of sponsorship costs. Some teams routinely ask for more than $10 million a year.

But Petree didn't create this setup, he's only working within it. He's not alone. Mark Melling is searching for money for his team. And on the Busch level, a bunch of teams are still dialing for dollars.

Petree, however, stands out as the team owner looking for money with the performance statistics to deliver a sponsor future success.

“I really think the business model is solid,” Petree says. “If you look at it, the numbers we generated. I don't think there's been a better value. It's just really hard to get people to make these decisions, even at a $7 million to $8 million level.”

So it is, Petree and Wallace this week were in Daytona for preseason testing with a mission. When the tests were over, Wallace turned out to be the fastest, according to figures released by the speedway. Whether they were fastest because they were trying harder while other teams were not is immaterial here. The point is, they proved they have the speed at this point in the process.

“There was a couple of (sponsors) here (Tuesday) that say they are interested in something,” Wallace said afterward. “But as Andy has and myself and the team, we've heard that before.

“Hopefully something will materialize,” Wallace added. “The 33 car is too good of a race team to be sitting there without a sponsor.”

There's the rub. Petree's car is too good to go without sponsorship.

Yet, because of circumstances outside of his shop, the car may just head to Daytona without a major sponsor.

We've seen this before. In 1991, Alan Kulwicki struggled for a sponsor and showed up at Daytona with a one-race deal from the U.S. Army. Soon after, he struck a deal with Hooters, and the following year carried them to the Winston Cup championship.

Two years ago, Johnny Benson nearly won the Daytona 500 without a major sponsor on the car, now he's a regular contender.

And now, Wallace, a driver who has come so close in Winston Cup races before, has at least shown he can put Wallace's car up front in practice.

Could a win, a big win, be far behind?

We may find out in February.

Hopefully, then some sponsor considering to buy space on Petree's team now won't be left on the sidelines if the rest of this fairytale story comes true.

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