The King Richard Petty on the State of NASCAR In March 1970
In NASCAR stock car racing, where the drivers have never had much of a say and Bill France has had most of the say, Richard petty stands out as the closest thing to a firebrand you’ll find. He’s doing what Kurt
Flood is doing in baseball, taking the professional athlete out of the
grips of the they’re only dumb-athletes-and-have-to-be-taken-care-of
syndrome and putting them into the position they belong as of vital,
organizing part of the sport. Its rather like the monkey rebelling
against the organ-grinder.
It’s somehow fallen to Richard Petty to become the spokesman for the
drivers on the NASCAR circuit. Part of the reason is the simple fact
that he is president of the Professional Drivers Association, a group
formed by the drivers to promote their goals, namely track
improvements and pension plans. Another part of the reason runs deeper and started earlier, back when his father, Lee, was establishing the record for the most career wins by a NASCAR driver. That record stood until 1967, then Richard broke it.
So it only seems natural that when we fill the NASCAR drivers story
needed telling, we asked Richard petty to tell it. He gives a brief
history of NASCAR, where it is today, and what its future may hold.
Most of all, though, he makes it obvious that in the next decade, as
racing speed’s and purses climb, so will the drivers influence.
And he means it… For himself, for all the other drivers, and maybe
even for a seven-year-old boy named Kyle Petty who already likes to
draw racing cars and tag them with the number 43.
–Editor – Eric Dahlquist
With The start of this new year, we are also getting started on
another decade of automobile racing. It’s going to be a critical one,
especially in NASCAR is Grand National division with which I am
primarily concerned. A day never goes by without someone asking me
about the future of the sport. Most of them are thinking about the
immediate future, this season, after we went through so many radical
changes and suffered so many growing pains last year. I don’t have the
answers for them but I do have some thoughts and suggestions on where we’re headed.
I have always felt that the various organizations which make up the
entire sport auto of auto racing have spent the past 10 years working
against each other, fighting for supremacy. This, before anything
else, must change if we are to progress. If, in the future, they would
work hand in hand I have no doubts that I sport would be number one
rather than number two. (to parimutuel horse racing – Ed.) In the
In any examination of the future, though, I think you must first
consider where you have been. In racing, especially stock car racing,
the history is a short one. NASCAR first ran a Grand National race in
1949 and after 20 years we have come along way. Most of the progress
has been accomplished in the past 10 years.
When I first drove a car in competition in 1959 we were definitely on
a minor league scale. Most of the tracks we ran were small ones with
dirt surfaces. Daytona, which open that year, was an exception, as was
Darlington. But, for the most part, we ran the little shows and got
the little purses. This affected the way we ran our operation. That
season we had a little four-stall garage which was pretty much
run-down as compared to today’s. And we had only four people,
including me and my brother Maurice, working on the race cars.
Look at the contrast today. David Pearson won over $200,000 counting his money from the point fund, and in 1959 the top money winner earned only a fraction of that. Our shop now covers 15,000 square feet and we employ 15 people. The automotive manufacturers have come in with rich budgets and the accessory firms too have added money to the purses.
We’re spreading out of the southeastern homebase across the country.
All that may sound about perfect. It certainly put us on another
plateau. a little higher then the one the sport was on for its first
10 years. But if we are to reach still another plateau, we can’t stand
still and be satisfied with what everyone has accomplished. We have to
keep getting better, and some things have to change for us to do so.
Here is an example of what I mean. With all the progress we’ve made in 10 years we still run 100–mile races for the same first–place purse, $1000. that we did in 1959. We can’t afford to sit still like that.
One of the first areas of changed to be noticed will probably be the
short tracks. As far as the Grand Nationals are concerned there will
have to be a separation of the small tracks and the super speedways.
There is not enough time and money and people to operate on both and do a first-class job. This doesn’t mean that I won’t run the majority of the races, no matter where they are, as I have done for 10 years. It just means that the time must come when I, as a Grand National driver, will be able to run those small ones.
New super speedways have gone up, just in the past year, at Michigan
and Texas. They are planning others in other parts of the country. The
people behind them or building with a lot of good ideas. They’re
making the tracks wide and not so steeply banked, sacrificing speed.
After all, competition – not speed – makes racing. This is a good trend.
There have also been marked improvements on facilities at some tracks in the past year and this is another positive sign. But this change is not yet complete. Daytona, for instance, stages the most prestigious race of the year with the 500-miler in February, but the truck has no lounge or rest rooms or anything for the drivers. The only facility we have there been given to us by the accessory firms, who constructed shops in the garage area. We shouldn’t have to rely on involved, but nevertheless separated, outsiders for these improvements.
These accessory companies, like Goodyear and Firestone and Champion and Autolite, have meant a lot to us. Purses have increased largely because of their participation. But I feel they should be more free enterprise among these companies. There are a lot of new people who would like to come in and who would be good for our sport but under the present set up the opportunities are almost nonexistent. A change here would mean more money for the participants in the sport and good advertising results for the companies.
Television will also play a very definite room in our future for the
next 10 years. This medium has a tremendous influence on the
popularity professional football and golf, and it has also put a lot
of additional money into these sports. It can do the same for us,
while we can give it a popular product at the same time.
All of these “ifs”, though, depend upon management of our sport. When I mention management here I do not mean the management from NASCAR officials alone but also management from us, the drivers and the car owners. You can include the automotive manufacturers and the accessory companies in that too. Simply, it’s just going to take the combined efforts of everyone, talking and planning and going hand-in-hand. Anything short of that may well result in regression.
Article from Motor Trend magazine, March 1970, Volumev22, No. 3 Rap ‘n ‘Pinion Page 18 copyright 1970 by Petersen Publishing Company, 8490 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, California 90069.
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