Petty: 'I Never Give Up'
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 7, 2014 | 3:30 P.M. EST
The return of the No. 43 car to Daytona's Victory Lane couldn't have been done without Richard Petty's determination through the years. (Photo: Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The line snaked around shelves of motor oil and antifreeze, past other automotive lubricants and filters. Men in various stages of aging stood with sons, others with grandsons.
They came for someone they admired, someone who once made their days better, but someone who had fallen from the top of his sport. This was years ago, back when North Wilkesboro and Rockingham were stops on the NASCAR tour.
Back when Richard Petty raced.
It was a year before Petty’s final season in 1992 and well after his last win, but they came to a Kentucky auto parts store one summer day. Why so many, even as Petty’s career tailed off?
"I guess they feel sorry for me," he quipped, punctuating his words with a wide smile and those luminescent teeth.
Although the Pettys once dominated, first with Lee and then Richard, generations of fans know them more for their grace and humility than winning. Since Petty Enterprises closed in 2009, investors and partners have tried to return the Petty name to prominence - with limited success.
Sunday’s victory by Aric Almirola in the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway won’t change the team’s fortunes on its own. It will take more than one victory to do so. Then again, you can’t reach two victories without first reaching one.
Petty’s issues haven’t been from lack of effort. Lord knows, they tried to succeed. But it was only four years ago when they faced questions about if their haulers would head to the next race because of financial issues. They’ve since climbed from that, and are investing in testing and trying to do the same with the future.
It would have been easy to quit at any of those down times. At least that’s what some thought, but not for the Pettys, particularly Richard. Racing is all they know. It’s what they do. He’s compared the family to farming neighbors who tended land in Level Cross, N.C. Through good times and bad, the farmers always worked. That’s how the Pettys have remained in racing.
"I don't ever give up on anything," Petty said via telephone after Sunday’s win, having returned home before the race. "If you look back at the history and Petty Enterprises, all the turmoil we've been through in the last seven or eight years and all that stuff, I never gave up on the thing. So it was one of those deals that I said, 'OK, if I keep working at it long enough, we're going to overcome all this.' "
Sunday’s victory was the first time since 1999 that Petty’s famous No. 43 made it to Victory Lane. It was the first time the No. 43 had been in Daytona’s Victory Lane since 1984, when Petty scored his 200th career victory. Almirola was three months old at the time. More than a third of the drivers in Sunday’s race were born after that historic win.
While Petty wasn’t in Victory Lane, family still was there. Almirola’s crew chief, Trent Owens, is Petty’s nephew.
"It feels like home to come back," Owens said. "It was a very comforting transition from Nationwide to Sprint Cup with the (No.) '43' car, and these guys did a really good job throughout the interview process, making sure I made the right decision. I feel like I have and I'm enjoying it. This win will be hard to top ... probably ever."
With all the talk about tying Almirola’s win to Petty’s past, Petty stated that "today is the future."
The past can be seen in the Petty Museum in Level Cross, but it's what the team does now that will determine its course.
"We don't sit in a hauler and think about, 'Oh man, how cool would it be to win this weekend because it's been 30 years?' " Almirola said. "Every weekend, we show up to the racetrack and think, 'What are we going to do to win the race?' That's our mindset. Whether it worked this weekend, next weekend at New Hampshire or whenever, I'm just glad we got this (No.) '43' car back to Victory Lane."
It wouldn’t have happened had Petty given up years ago.
Richard Petty will join Motor Racing Network broadcaster Barney Hall as featured guests on this week's edition of NASCAR Live with host Eli Gold on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.