It wasn’t that long ago that many of us wondered if Richard Petty would cease to be a part of NASCAR – at least as a team owner.
The long-enduring Petty Enterprises had evaporated, something we thought would never happen. But years of turmoil and financial uncertainty made all the difference.
Petty pressed on but, frankly, as a team owner he was never on steady financial ground, largely because his primary investor was also on shaky ground.
But then he did something several others had done before him.
He secured financial partners. In November 2010 he teamed up with Medallion Financial and DGB Investments, and principals Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron, to form Richard Petty Motorsports.
It was a smart move and the same one undertaken by some of NASCAR’s top team owners, like Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Michael Waltrip.
It meant that Petty now had the resources to build his organization without fear of financial loss. He trimmed Petty Motorsports to two cars for the 2011 with drivers AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.
To honest Petty Motorsports has never been a front-runner for a championship. But its competitive growth has been steady, if somewhat slow.
And it has won races.
Ambrose, an Australian road course ace, scored for Petty at Watkins Glen in 2011. And he did it again in 2012. He won three Xfinity Series events.
Ambrose is gone, having chosen to return to his home country to race, again, in the V8 Supercar Series.
Since 2012, Petty’s other driver has been Aric Almirola, who hasn’t put up the same numbers as Ambrose – but whose improvement has been duly noted. Let’s not forget he won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last July.
This year, Sam Hornish Jr. will join Almirola. Hornish hasn’t had a full-time Sprint Cup ride since his spotty tenure with Roger Penske. That ended in 2013 after Hornish ran only one race.
But it’s not like he lacks experience, not at all.
A sure sign of RPM’s growth is the fact that it has moved its shops. The team was once housed in a 44,000-square-foot facility near the Concord, N.C., airport. It is now 30 minutes away in Mooresville in a facility with twice the space.
The team now has more control on the way the cars are prepared for its drivers, since it no longer has to buy them from other teams.
Now out of its financial maladies and armed with sponsorship – though the team needs to secure more for season-long support – Petty thinks his team can operate for success rather than survival.
“We’re probably in the best shape we’ve been in over the last three or four years,” Petty said during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. “Everybody knows we went really to the bottom a couple or three years ago when our car owner (George Gillette) went bankrupt or whatever.
“We brought in new investors and just tried to get some foundation. I don’t know that our season last year was that much better off than the year before, but it was a heckuva lot more stable. Some sponsors have stepped up, so that let’s us think we’re doing the right thing.”
Brian Moffitt, CEO at RPM, agreed with Petty that more input from sponsors, and the addition of new ones, is indicative of team progress.
“When Richard, Andy and Doug got together a couple of years ago they did not want to run at the rear of the pack,” Moffitt said. “The winning tradition of the Pettys is to run up front. That’s what we’re in this for.
“We’ve had some success in bringing in sponsors who have helped us improve our R&D efforts so these guys can go out and compete at the highest level.”
Said Almirola, “We’ve got a lot of momentum on our side. We’re not going to falter this year. We’ve got a lot of things going at Richard Petty Motorsports and we are ready for 2015.”
No one at RPM, including Richard Petty himself, would disagree with that.