NASCAR

Petty Motorsports aims toward bright future

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Rea White

Rea White has been covering NASCAR full time since 1998. She has won awards from press agencies in Alabama and North Carolina and formerly served as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter.

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Richard Petty admits that the closing months of last year were rough.

For the final five races of the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, the seven-time champion found himself on unfamiliar ground. Week to week he wondered if he’d be able to make it to the next race.

He had deals in the works and was confident that if he made it to season’s end, the team could put itself in better position. But first he had to get through 2010.

“(The) last five weeks of the season it was Wednesday before we knew if we were going to be able to get to the racetrack,” he said. “That was five races we had to piece together. While we were piecing that together, we were also talking to (future investor) Medallion (Financial Corp.), talking to different investors about the ’11 season. We were able to keep the team together at the end of the year in order to have anything at the beginning of this year … Every 15 minutes something different came up, but the crowd I had working with me, they kept it together.”

It wasn’t easy, though.

Fully charged

What break? See how NASCAR drivers spent their offseason.

Long-time Petty employee Robbie Loomis, who rejoined the organization after a foray to other teams that included winning a championship with Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports, returned in 2006 and has seen quite a few changes in the organization.

The vice president of racing operations watched the group partner with investor Boston Ventures, then with the Gillett family and now become involved in a new deal that involves Medallion’s Andrew Murstein.

Loomis admits this past fall was the toughest to take.

“(I) aged about five years,” he said. “Last year was challenging ... As a race team, I was really impressed with AJ (Allmendinger) stepping up and his leadership and his focus and not getting caught up in all the outside things that were going on and that’s a hard thing to do and to me it showed the real ability of a top-level driver. … For Richard, we were right here at Charlotte when we found out we might not be able to continue the rest of the year and Richard got us on the bus and said, ‘This isn’t an option for us. We’ve got to figure our way through it.’ … We knew we had to make it every week and get to Homestead if we were going to have anything moving forward.”

While Petty and Loomis worked desperately to secure backing, Allmendinger took on a new role in the team.

He became a leader, a guy keeping things on track on the competition side while the rest of the group worked furiously on finding the needed funds to move into 2011 and beyond.

“At that point, somebody needed to step up,” Allmendinger said. “The guys in the shop, they weren’t hearing a lot of info. Robbie Loomis and all those guys, they were working hard behind the scenes. But they didn’t have a lot of info to tell us and, unfortunately, for a long time the stuff they had to tell us wasn’t good info that we wanted to hear. So a lot of those guys, as the leaders were over there working to make this team still survive, the crew guys were just kind of sitting there in open air trying to figure out what was going on. So I had to lead them, I had to go out there and try to pump them up, keep them going. But to their credit, I didn’t have to do it a lot.”

Loomis admits that it has been disheartening to see the team struggle through partnerships.

It was difficult to watch a legend like Petty have to fight so hard to stay at the track week to week.

Petty says that other teams offered all kinds of help, just not the needed funding. That he found in his new partnership.

And now, after a few years of change, Petty is confident this is the one move that will make the difference.

After all, this one is different.

Why? Because he’s in charge of the racing side.

“I can fire, hire, whatever. I’ve got complete control of the racing part, then I turn that over to Robbie and the crew chiefs and stuff,” he said. “Right now, this is the first time in two or three years that the racing crowd has had control of the race car. It’s been mostly a financial deal and stuff, so now it’s back to racing.”

He says that they work with other Ford teams on technology and developments in an effort to maintain an edge.

He’s learned from his past and now knows both what he needs and exactly what he is getting as he attempts to move forward.

“It’s kind of deal where you’ve had outside influences that were more interested in the financial part than they were in the racer part,” he said. “The deal then when we first started racing was racing and we just went to race. We didn’t worry, if you had enough money to get to the next track … The new parties coming in, yeah they want to make money, but they’re not interested in making millions of dollars. If they can keep their head above water and entertain with their customers, they’re almost like another sponsor from the standpoint where they’re going to use racing to help expand their business.

“So that makes it so much easier on us, we can go back to racing and let them worry about that part.”

What a shot!

NASCAR fans witnessed memorable moments in 2010. CHECK OUT THE BEST.

And racing, it turns out, is still the only thing that Petty wants to do.

As he looks over the last four months, he says that he never considered just walking away. For him, this is still both a profession and a way of life. Now, he’s worked to make sure it remains that way.

“I’ve been going to races since I was 11 years old, and if I decided to do something .. I’d have to start a whole new life,” he said. “I’m 73 years old, I’m not ready to start a new life, so I’ll just sort of hang onto the one I’ve got now.”

The Kings new court

The King introduced “the new Richard Petty Motorsports” team on Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Along with drivers AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose, there were some new faces including Lisa Brown, recently named the CEO of RPM.

Petty’s partner, Medallion Financial CEO Andrew Murstein says “Lisa will be a breath of fresh air to the sport.”

“We’ve developed a nice chemistry among us,” Murstein said. “I think we have our own talents and shortcomings and together we kind of pick each other up.”

Brown was formerly Executive Vice President, Interactive Marketing for America Online and President and CEO of USA Electronic Commerce Solutions LLC.

“I’ve known Richard since ‘08 and have advised him in the past,” Brown said. “I’m thrilled about the opportunity. For me, I’m an absolute NASCAR fan. I was associated with NASCAR prior to this, to me in my career this is a very important move.

“We want to make this (day) about Richard’s being back. I fought really hard for Richard to get his company back and I was involved in the team that did that. So, I passionately believe in this team, in Richard, in Brian Moffitt (Senior VP of Sales and Marketing) and their ability.”

— Lee Spencer

Numbers game

85,000 — Miles that Furniture Row Motorsports transporters travel from their home base in Denver during a NASCAR Sprint Cup season

110 — Years Ford Motor Company has competed in racing

8 — Cup championships won by Richard Petty Motorsports’ Dale Inman

4 — Number of days per week Mark Martin spends strength training during the race season (he races the other three days).

3 — Triathlons RPM director of operations Sammy Johns plans to compete in during 2011.

2 — Daytona 500 wins on crew chief Todd Parrott’s racing resume.

— Lee Spencer
 

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