It’s simple, really. NASCAR needs Richard Petty. He is an icon who has, for decades, been the sanctioning body’s most able statesman and most visible, recognized figure. Over his long career, and afterward, his singular willingness to give time to fans, charity and the sport have helped create a positive aura over stock car racing, which was once considered a hooligan sport.
Petty remains a role model for all professional athletes.
It would have been sad, even tragic, to see him play a diminished role in NASCAR – or disappear entirely – because of the collapse of the team that bears his name.
As the 2010 season came to a close it was widely reported that RPM faced extinction. It could not pay its bills, or at best, paid them late. It didn’t know if it could field its four cars from race to race.
When the season ended there were serious doubts that RPM could continue.
The situation was created because billionaire owner George Gillett, who fashioned a “merger” to create RPM after sponsor less Petty Enterprises shut down on Jan. 1, 2009, sustained financial duress – which is an understatement. He spent a lot of money, got strapped, defaulted on loans and didn’t get the income he expected from other sources. Simply put, when money goes out and doesn’t come back in, things go bad in a hurry.
As the reports of demise swirled, Petty stood his ground. He said he was going to be in NASCAR until it kicked him out. He said he would seek new investors to keep his team going.
They were found.
Petty announced that RPM’s racing assets were sold to an investment group comprised of himself, Medallion Financial Corp. and DGB Investments.
Petty will actively oversee the team’s day-to-day operations. Robbie Loomis and Sammy Johns retain their managerial roles and the team will field two cars with drivers A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.
The purchase amount wasn’t revealed, of course, but it was reported that Petty and the investment firms put in millions of dollars.
They must have, indeed, because a whopping $100 million in debt was wiped out. That’s the most significant information to come out of all this. It means RPM can start the 2011 season on level ground.
Sure beats worrying if cars can make it race-to-race.
But it never should have come to all of this. Outside billionaires, investment firms, lack of sponsorship, debt and near collapse should never have been part of the Petty story.
In an ideal world, the racing organization known as Petty Enterprises, founded by family patriarch Lee Petty at the dawn of NASCAR, should still exist in Level Cross, N.C., free of sponsorship issues.
It should still compete at a high level, perhaps one as close as that during its zenith, when Lee won three championships and Richard won seven and 200 races. Petty Enterprises was widely recognized as one of the best teams in NASCAR. It should have remained so.
In an ideal world, Kyle Petty, Richard’s son, should have spent his career with Petty Enterprises and not competed with other teams for years, separated by family and professional differences. He should have won many races for his father’s organization and eventually become its CEO.
In an ideal world, Kyle, today, should be directing the team from the Level Cross shops and his son Adam should still be with us and be the team’s principal driver – and an established star.
Richard, today, should be savoring it all.
But an ideal world does not exist.
However, in this real world, things are decidedly better for RPM and its venerated owner. They enter 2011 with relief, promise – and a long road ahead.
For that, NASCAR, and its fans, should be very thankful.
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