NASCAR Notes: An Edict From King Richard
BY DAVE GRAYSON
Richard Petty comes from a generation that believes honesty is always the best policy. This generation is famous for saying what they mean and meaning what they say. If you ask the King of stock car racing any question in the world his response may not necessarily be what you expected to hear, but you can count on the fact that it will be double dipped in honesty.
Such was the case back on February 10th when Richard Petty was making a personal appearance, north of out border, at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto.
During a scheduled Q & A session, covered by the “Toronto Star Wheels.ca” and “Raceline Radio”, the King was asked if he thought driver Danica Patrick was capable of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Without a seconds worth of hesitation, Petty quipped: “only if everybody else stayed home.”
Anyone who has ever met Richard Petty already knows that this comment was not intended be mean spirited. It was an honest answer to an honest question as well as another moment from the say what you mean and mean what you say generation.
Taking the issue to a more positive light, Petty did concede that Patrick’s presence in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing has created a positive impact on the sport and further commented:
“If she had been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a race track. This is a female thing that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that because it’s good public relations. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.”
Petty also conceded that the sport has changed tremendously over the years and NASCAR is no longer just about the racing. From NASCAR’s inception, back in the late 1940′s, to the early 1970′s the racing was absolutely at the forefront. It was a proverbial case of man and machine being pushed to the limit to earn the right to visit victory lane. It was also a time when many of the top tier NASCAR teams, such as Petty Enterprises, were financially supported by America’s big three automakers.
However, the wind of change blew in the 1970′s and the concept of placing a corporate logo on the hood of a race car became mandatory. With that came the necessary process of the driver becoming involved with sponsor promotions, team public relations, personal appearances at race tracks to help ticket sales along with the endless stream of press interviews.
The fact of the matter was: all of a sudden NASCAR driver’s commitments out of the car had practically overtaken their commitment to performance levels while inside of the car.
During his appearance in Toronto, Petty pointed out that the element of promoting the sports has moved to the forefront and said: “the first thing you know is that the race is secondary, because all the rest of it is build up, build up, build up.”
The King even compared modern day NASCAR Sprint Cup racing to the NFL’s Superbowl saying: “it was a little more exciting watching the buildup than watching the game. The game just happened to break out in the middle of a good party. We’re not quite that far along but in order for us to do what we need to do on race day, the sponsorship and the fan stuff, we have to do all this other stuff.”
As many NASCAR fans are aware of, this is not the first time someone named Petty publicly questioned Danica Patrick’s ability to win a race. Kyle Petty, former Sprint Cup driver turned television analyst, took the lady driver to task on national television in June of last year. Kyle Petty, like his famous father, is someone else who will always give an honest answer to any question.
Kyle Petty conceded that Danica Patrick is one of the most recognizable names in NASCAR racing and referred to her as a “marketing machine, someone who’s a hot commodity and rightfully so. I have to problem with that-more power to her,” he said.
Then, he tackled the issue of Patrick’s win potential in the Sprint Cup Series by saying: “Danica Patrick has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs. She can go fast, but she can’t race. I think she’s come a long way, but she’s still not a race car driver and I don’t think she’s ever going to be a race car driver.”
Responding to that criticism, Patrick at first said she didn’t care what Kyle Petty thinks and then later thanked him for providing her with some additional “personal motivation.”
That now brings the question to a full circle: can Danica Patrick win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series? Many observers of the sport will say the Pettys are correct and we should not expect to see her parking a race car in victory lane.
Yet, you almost have to at least concede to the possibility. After all, NASCAR racing is a sport that often provides late race surprises. The upcoming Daytona 500 is a perfect example.
Last year, at Daytona, Danica Patrick made NASCAR history by becoming the first female to win a Sprint Cup pole. She spent much of the great American race running in the top ten and finished eighth.
Pessimists will be quick to point out that the 2013 Daytona 500 was the only top ten finish that Patrick scored during her rookie Cup season. Optimists will say that she clearly displayed a flair for Daytona style restrictor plate racing and is more than capable of being the next driver to pull off a last lap Daytona surprise.
If that unexpected win comes to pass, then expect to see King Richard Petty, complete with his famous grin, arriving at victory lane to shake her hand.