Petty on economy: 'It's hit us between the eyes'

Jun 10, 2009 - 4:12 PM By JOEDY McCREARY AP Sports Writer

RANDLEMAN, N.C.(AP) -- From behind those trademark shades, Richard Petty has seen just about everything during a half-century in racing.

But even The King has been caught off guard by the severity of the recession that has caused NASCAR to tap its brakes: Automakers are entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, team sponsors are slashing budgets and fans are struggling to scrape up money for travel, tickets and trinkets.

"The economy, it's hit us between the eyes," Petty said in an interview with The Associated Press at his museum in central North Carolina. "(The recession) has kind of put the clamps on our spectators coming, because you've got to figure our sport, probably moreso than any other sport, is a sport that people travel a lot of miles to go to. When the economy gets like it is, then they can afford tickets, but they can't afford to get there because of the gas mileage, the motels, the food."

The mustachioed racing icon made cowboy hats with ostrich feathers - and, yes, those wraparound sunglasses that protect his sensitive eyes - fashion staples while winning seven championships and a NASCAR-record 200 Cup races during his 35-year racing career.

But that legacy hasn't protected him or his team from this recession.

Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports in January in a move that kept Petty's famed No. 43 Dodge racing. And just this week, the new organization co-owned by Petty - Richard Petty Motorsports - laid off nine employees while reducing salaries throughout the company, a byproduct of Chrysler's Chapter 11 filing.

"The deal is, the strong will survive through this and will come out the other end that much stronger," Petty said. "If it lasts forever, we're still going to be able to set our businesses up on what it is right now. We don't have the money flow, we don't have the deal, we can't do the things we want to do, R&D, that kind of stuff. So you just tighten the belt, and then if it don't expand, then you've already tightened your belt, and you tightened it so that you can survive.

"Right now, a lot of it is more than a go-forward mode. We're more in a survival mode, so let's get through all this stuff. Then we'll start looking at going forward."

With the sport stuck in such a shaky present, it's no wonder that many fans might find themselves longing for the past.

To hear Petty tell it, though, the good old days weren't always so good.

"We went through a bunch of ups and downs (during NASCAR's) 60 years, but the deal was, most of the time, if there was a recession, OK, it didn't affect us directly," Petty said. "It might have affected the cigarette companies, or it might have affected textiles ... but it didn't directly affect us as far as the racing crowd, so we could continue to do our deal.

"But now, the way the economy is, it affected everybody. It doesn't make a difference - if you're just sitting over on the hill and you've been over there by yourself for 10 years and ain't seen nobody, it still affects you. ... It's a different kind of a recession that's over our head."

Still, there are plenty of reasons for Petty to reflect on his Hall of Fame career.

Next month is the 25th anniversary of win No. 200; his final trip to Victory Lane as a driver came at the Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1984. He marked the occasion by releasing a four-hour, four-disc audiobook that preserves the memories of the 50-plus years that passed since his father, three-time NASCAR champion Lee Petty, suggested he cut the top off of an old car and drive it in a convertible series race.

"If you hadn't had a bunch of that stuff that us and some of them drivers went through, you wouldn't have NASCAR today," Petty said. "It would be back starting again. What happened, all the people that came through, whether they were motor people or writing PR or not, it took all them people to make it work. Zillions and zillions of people that are behind the scenes. ... Without those people doing their job, then these guys wouldn't have the opportunity to do what they're doing today."


On the Net:

Richard Petty Motorsports:

Richard Petty's Audio Scrapbook:

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!