Thursday, September 24, 2009

PEE - Petty Earnhardt Enterprises?

From the founding of Petty Engineering by Lee Petty in the late 1940s - through the rise of the King in the 1960s - to Richard's domination in the first half of the 1970s - until Richard's retirement in 1992, Petty Enterprises was pretty solid. Richard's and the team's better days were clearly behind them when Richard stepped away. But with a wide variety of drivers, Petty Enterprises had a moderate level of success between 1993 and 2007 - although it was difficult to maintain the big mo' from season to season.

In 2008, the team's drivers often couldn't get out of their own way, the economy turned for the worse, sponsorships shrunk, and Petty Enterprises had 2 drivers under contract that didn't exactly fit the model demographic desired by Madison Avenue - Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty.

Earlier this year, the venerable Petty Enterprises became no more. Though announced as a "merger", the King sold out to Gillett Evernham Motorsports pretty much adding nothing to the transaction except the famous #43 and the King himself as a marketable brand name.

Less than one year into the new relationship, the resulting Richard Petty Motorsports looks to be in a lot of disarray and turmoil. A newly announced letter-of-intent to acquire Yates Racing was met with hurt and confusion at the RPM engine shop. The employees were apparently informed their jobs were safe only to read a few days later the soon-to-be-Ford RPM would use Roush-Yates engines in 2010.

The President of the company, Tom Redden, left in the spring. And Mark McArdle was fired by the Gilletts after a garage area argument about the Yates/Ford announcement.

To me, this scenario is beginning to resemble Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in 2006-2007 time frame.

Absentee ownership

In late 2006 and into 2007, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. openly called out Teresa Earnhardt about the need to beef up the technology at DEI. Included in his comments was a threat to leave the team if things didn't improve. They didn't - and he did. Following Dale Sr's death through the 2007 departure of Dale Jr. through 2009's 'merger' with Chip Ganassi Racing, Teresa has not been visible much at all.

George Gillett bought the majority of Evernham Motorsports from Ray Evernham and has majority ownership of the post-Petty merged company. Yet, other than a single appearance on Dave Despain's WindTunnel show after the Evernham transaction, he hasn't been much of a presence at the track. In all fairness, he had a couple of other sports mega-franchises and a monster-load of debt to also occupy his time - the Montreal Canadiens NHL team and a UK soccer team. He has since sold the Canadiens, and he may have unloaded the soccer team as well.

His son, Foster, is supposedly a part-owner and the day-to-day owner representative for the team. Yet according to Kasey Kahne, Foster is AWOL as well. Kahne's recent comments and ones he made in the spring about the need for RPM to improve its performance have led many to believe this is a call-out much like Dale Jr. did with Teresa.

Hired scapegoat

Whether Max Siegel was hired by Teresa to truly run DEI or simply serve as a go-between for Dale Jr. and her will never be known. What is known, however, is poor Max was often left to answer questions at the track with data he didn't have.

Richard Petty now seems to be playing the role of Max Siegel quite well. The King is a part owner and does have his name on the building, the cars, and the haulers. Beyond that, however, his ownership and influence positions are limited. Yet, he's the one at the track answering the questions about the team's current and future situations.

Nothing spends like daddy's money

As a DEI driver, Michael Waltrip frequently showed he was a one-trick pony. Put him on a restrictor plate track and *boom* he could go. He could generally point it straight, mash the gas, draft a bit, and even slip up and win a few. Eventually, however, Mikey left to form his own team and was replaced by the consummate silver spoon driver, Paul Menard.

Menard was hired by DEI for one simple reason - and it wasn't his silly soul patch. Its the wheelbarrows full of cash his pop provides to promote his chain of midwestern Home Depot-wannabe Menard's home improvement stores. After a multi-year run at DEI with nothing to show for it, daddy moved his money and his son to Yates Racing for 2009.

So now look who gets stuck with him in 2010? That's right - RPM. I've been a critic of Reed Sorensen as an RPM driver this year - particularly in my beloved 43. But the thought of Paul Menard driving anything Petty related - including a Segway around the shop floor - turns my stomach. Yet because he'll drag multi-millions of his future inheritance with him to cover all 36 races, RPM will find a home for him just as DEI did.

These are just three examples. The comparisons might stop there. Who knows - its just my opinion and nothing more.

Kasey Kahne may well leave RPM at the end of 2010. If he does, I realize his leaving won't have near the impact of Dale Jr. leaving DEI. If RPM merges yet again or ceases to exist altogether, it won't be the same as DEI's merger with Ganassi. The bigger shock for me was when Petty ENTERPRISES took on an outside investor and then later merged with GEM.

And it wouldn't surprise me a year from now if Chip-N-Dale Racing merges with RPM/Yates to form PEE - Petty Earnhardt Enterprises.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Forceful personality

I've been trying to gather my thoughts as to what to type about the New Hampshire race. I'm also working up a couple of other blog entries requiring more time and energy to compile than I have right now.

So in the meantime, I share with you this beauty of a appearance by 14x NHRA funny car champion, John Force. I'm not a huge fan of straight-line racing, but I know enough about it to know John's record, his wrecks, his unbelievably attractive and equally talented daughter Ashley, and his in-your-face way of communicating.

He appeared last week on ESPN addressing, among other subjects, allegations he took a dive in a race to get one of his drivers in the NHRA version of NASCAR's championship chase. He spoke these words meekly...not.

Note: I tried to embed the video itself. As of yesterday, the World Leader of Sports provided the code to embed it. Today, it doesn't work. I found the video on YouTube, but they will not allow it to be embedded either. Geez.

But, its well worth 6 minutes of your time to watch and laugh at this bizarre interview.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hockey and Baseball Schaefer

Tuesday I e-mailed the Nashville Predators ticket office to order a block of tickets for a group hockey event. I couldn't help but laugh when the account representative who handled my order was Dan Schaefer.

I e-mailed him the link to this blog's Schaefer posts and told him I would explain later. Before having a chance to do so, he replied with "Schaefer - the beer to have when you're having more than one." The jingle! It was almost like sharing one of those life-long, Greek fraternity secret handshakes.

He said his dad lives in Oklahoma and still prefers to drink Schaefer - because of his name and because he likes it. I asked him to get a specific location where his dad buys it so I could add it to the Schaefer Seller Google map. His reply? "My dad can't get it out there. So I buy it in Nashville and give it to him as a gift for Christmas and his birthday."

I'd expect nothing less from a Schaefer family.

Dan also e-mailed me a 1950s era picture from Ebbetts Fields, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers back in the day. Schaefer sponsored the scoreboard back then, and I knew from my prior research Schaefer had been a prominent advertiser with several Major League Baseball teams.

Dan then shared some trivia I didn't know. When the Dodgers got a hit, the "h" in Schaefer lit up. When an error was committed (I presume by the opposing team), the "e" was lit.

I not only found that nugget to be pretty interesting - I could also relate in a round-about way. I often commit errors of my own when I'm lit on Schaefer.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Has the King driven a Ford lately?

I was gone much of last week - and was without web access the whole time. That scenario is almost unthinkable in today's wired world yet it was true. Lots of co-workers asked me jokingly why couldn't I just get over not having access to work e-mail. I responded "Work e-mail? Racing news is what I need!"

Sure nuff, I returned to find the huge news for me as a Petty fan that Richard Petty Motorsports has signed a letter of intent to acquire Yates Racing and plans to convert all its racing teams from Dodge to Ford beginning with the 2010 season.

This will not be the first relationship between some of the participants of this venture and Ford. Many are writing about Kasey Kahne's grooming in the sport by FoMoCo. About the time he was ready to be promoted the upper echelon of Cup, Ray Evernham and Dodge swooped in and plucked him away. Kahne was subsequently sued by Ford, and dollars had to be exchanged just so everyone could get along.

Elliott Sadler also drove the #38 M&M's Ford Taurus for Yates Racing before leaving to replace Jeremy Mayfield in the #19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge - which then became Gillette Evernham Motorsports - that then transitioned to the Richard Petty Motorsports we now have.

Forty years ago, however, a bigger story was the defection of Petty Enterprises from Chrysler's factory team to the Ford contingent. I was 4 at the time Petty made the decision to race a blue oval. My biggest concern at the time was ensuring I had a cool H.R. Puffenstuff lunch box for my looming kindergarten start. So I've had to research the reasons for the manufacturer change.

Apparently, the Pettys wanted Chrysler to develop and field an aerodynamically slick car to compete with the Ford Torino Talladega slated to be released in 1969. When the engineers and marketers didn't deliver or call Petty's bluff, Richard bolted.

So how did it work out for PE and the driver by then established as the King of NASCAR? While not a championship season, I'd say the stats represent a career season for most drivers.
  • Started 50 of 54 races
  • Won first race started in a Ford - 1969 Motor Trend 500 at Riverside
  • 10 wins (20%)
  • 31 top 5's (62%)
  • 38 top 10'2 (76%)
  • 2nd in points to David Pearson
Side note timeout: Am I the only one who thinks it would be cool if A.J. Allmendinger showed up at Daytona wearing one these gold lamé driver uniforms? OK, back to the blog...

The King reached a personal milestone in 1969 in his Ford. He won his 100th Grand National race on August 22, 1969, in the Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman-Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, NC. Only one other driver - David Pearson - has reached the 100-win marker, and it took the Silver Fox an extra 9 years to do so.

Interestingly, Petty's relationship with Ford in 1969 helped Pearson complete one of his 105 victories. In the summer Bristol race, Pearson fell ill. Fellow Ford driver Petty took over as relief driver and raced Pearson's #17 Holman-Moody Ford to the victory.

1969 was also a watershed year for the King's leadership amongst his peers. Bill France Sr. built what is now known as Talladega Superspeedway about an hour east of Birmingham. The majority of drivers believed the track to be unsafe with the design of the cars and the tires on which they raced. The drivers formed a loose union-like alliance called the Professional Drivers Association and elected Petty as its inaugural president. Upon arriving at the new behemoth track, the drivers rallied around Petty as the King held court. The majority decided the track was indeed unsafe to race.

France, in his defense, didn't flinch and said something to the effect of "if you aren't gonna race, get off my property." The first flatbed hauler to fire its engine and head for I-20 toted the Petty blue #43 Ford Torino. It pulled out, and the majority of the name drivers/teams followed right behind the Petty rig. Again to Big Bill's defense, he said screw 'em and ran the race anyway with a bunch of scrub drivers. That decision pretty much ended the PDA, and all the drivers - including Petty - were back in 1970.

While the current courtship of Yates Racing by Richard Petty Motorsports seems all but a done deal, its hardly the first time Petty has danced a jig with the team. As far back as 1981 when Richard was trying to prolong his career while allowing his upstart son Kyle to flourish at Petty Enterprises, the King flirted with the prospect of leaving the family team to drive for Harry Ranier.

At the time, Ranier owned the team driven by Bobby Allison who finished a close 2nd to Darrell Waltrip in the 1981 championship. Whether the rumors of Petty joining Ranier in 1982 adversely affected the team's championship hunt isn't known, but Petty didn't jump - at least not until 1983 when he joined start-up team Curb Motorsports.

The chief engine builder for Harry Ranier was Robert Yates who had defected from DiGard Racing and driver DW in the late 70s. In 1987, Ranier Racing hired a young buck who hadn't fallen far from the family tree - Davey Allison. Later that year, Ranier sold the team to Robert Yates. Fast forward about 20 years, and Robert sells the team to son Doug - and now we've got RPM buying Doug's team.

A lot of details remain to be worked out for the acquisition to be finalized. In the end, I guess I don't care if Petty cars race Dodges, Ford, Toyotas, or friggin' soap box derby cars. As long as Petty is around, I can't help but be a fan.

But geez Louise, accepting Paul Menard in a Petty car will be about as painful as eating a plate of beets and brussel sprouts. Yuck. Guess I better start working myself up a soul patch.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

State Park Schaefer

Each Labor Day week, our department from work goes to a Tennessee state park for a few days of training, company updates, juvenile "team building" activities, golf, and consumption of a prodigious amount of beer.

While my fellow employees and I had all the beer we could want provided to us last week, we did not get to choose the brands. Standard bearers Bud Light and Miller Lite were the only brands provided. But considering they were available without limit, they drank pretty well.

Knowing the limited choices on the front end, however, I took care of matters a bit by taking my owner personal sixer of Schaefer. And just to cover myself (and my non-Schaefer beer) when the Schaefs were gone, I packed my Schaefer coozies.

In an effort to uphold the Schaefer Hall of Fame code of honor, I did what I could to spread the Schaefer story experience - albeit in a non-NASCAR race setting. Sure enough, a couple of co-workers said they wanted to be considered for the ring of honor.

Oscar was first - and to say she enjoyed her inaugural Schaefer is an understatement.

Check out her Twitter entries following her consumption of the Schaefer swill (follow her on Twitter @nascarl0vr).
  • Last night was fun. I am officially not a schaefer virgin anymore!!
  • Its official- not a schaefer virgin anymore! I drank it w/ a veteran and loved it. I can't believe it but I will now choose it over miller!
  • @toomuchcountry. Thanks for the great schaefer experience!
Cara was next to pull one out of the cooler. Now while she's not a Twitterer and didn't offer her approval to the world in less than 140 characters, she one-upped Oscar by drinking a 2nd one!

After she had her first one, she grabbed a 2nd one as did I and we headed to one of the multiple cabin parties held during the week. We ran into our supply chain vice president who stayed at the park with us to speak to our group the next morning. Our exchange went something like this:

TMC: VP, what's going on?
VP: Its all good. Hey, what is that you're drinking?
TMC: A Schaefer.
VP: A Schaefer? I haven't seen those in years. Why?
TMC: 'cause I wanted one. Cara has one too. Its her second.
VP: What?? Where did they come from?
TMC: I brought them.
VP: Really? Schaefer? Man, that's crazy.
TMC: You oughta put it on national contract so I can get better employee-preferred pricing.
VP: Not sure about that. Not sure we can get purchasing volume compliance.
TMC: Don't underestimate the volume I can move for you my friend.
VP: Now that's funny.

The next morning as part of his introductory remarks, he paused a moment and called an audible on how he wanted to start. To paraphrase, he said "I ran into one of your co-workers last night...who was drinking Schaefer...just because he wanted to. And then he wanted me to put it on contract. Wildest thing I've seen in a while. Anyway, I appreciate your having me here this morning..."

I plan to buy him a 12 pack of it and attach a "thank you" note for his speaking to our group.

Note: A new feature was recently added to Bench Racing. I've created a map of known Schaefer sellers in case you want to find some near you. That's the good news. The bad news is I don't know many places selling it anymore. That's where I need your help. Comment here or contact me with places you've seen selling it, and I'll add a thumbtack to the map for it.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Tunes Before Speed in Richmond

For those who are going to Richmond next weekend for the race - or if you are just going to be in Richmond during the week, check out racing writer Monte Dutton at Grandpa Eddie’s Alabama Ribs & BBQ at 11129 Three Chopt Road. He'll be there Thursday night, September 10. Kyle Petty - who jammed with Dutton in the spring - also plans to be there to sit in for a few tunes.

Dutton, who has covered NASCAR since 1993, is also a songwriter who often performs near tracks while on assignment. He's also been known to drop-in on a fan's tailgate event...maybe one TMC has attended?

He currently authors a weekly syndicated page, “NASCAR This Week,” circulated by King Features Syndicate. On the side, the veteran writer enjoys writing songs and performing them.

In 2007, Dutton’s first non-sports book, True to the Roots: Americana Music Revealed, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. It was the culmination of a three-year period in which he compiled interviews and gathered notes during his spare time. He tracked down singer-songwriters whom he admired and just happened to be performing near NASCAR tracks. On NASCAR off weeks, he frequently traveled to music hotbeds like Nashville and Austin.

And he taught himself to play guitar.

“I’m completely self-taught, probably to a fault,” said Dutton. “I didn’t look at a video. I didn’t read a book. I certainly didn’t take lessons. I just bought a guitar at a pawn shop and started playing around with it. In music books, they have those little grids with chord names. I figured the dots on the grids were where you put your fingers. “In retrospect, that was one of the few things I got right.”

Only one of his songs, “Martinsville,” is about NASCAR. It was loosely derived from the experience of several friends who attended a stock car race for the first time and told Dutton of their adventures. (I wish he'd write one about Schaefer experiences in Charlotte!)

Capitalizing on the fact fans know him for his race coverage, Dutton has been scheduling concerts that tie in with his NASCAR travels. He opened for Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison in Charlotte last fall. He played before a Kannapolis Intimidators minor-league baseball game two nights before the Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. In addition to Grandpa Eddie’s in Richmond, Dutton has performed recently near the tracks in Charlotte, Dover and Pocono. Later this month, he will play and serve as emcee at Pawlessfest, a music festival in Gainesville, Texas.

“I knew I could play my songs,” he said. “What I’ve tried to learn is how to entertain people with them. I talk about my songs and tell stories between them, but not so much that it upsets the messages I’m trying to convey.”

So if you are near Richmond this Thursday, drop into Uncle Eddie's, catch some tunes, drink some beer, talk some bench racing, get an autograph, and buy Monte and Kyle a round for me. I'll pay you back...I promise.


Saturday, September 5, 2009 shout out

Writer Rick Houston is owner, operator, chief contributor, and janitor at Stock Car History Online. He's also an author - writing a book about the Busch Grand National Series (later known simply as Busch Series and today as Nationwide series). Perhaps he's most famous 'round these parts for helping a friend of mine and me land the elusive picture of the Al Loquasto-driven, D.K. Ulrich-owned, Schaefer Beer-sponsored Buick.

Today, he authored an article for spotlighting a local business focused on customer service and one that sees an uptick when the NASCAR teams, media, and fans hit town. Only he didn't cover just any business. He spotlighted McIntosh Bank in McDonough, GA - the bank where my friend is a vice president and commercial loan officer.

Rick highlighted the bank and Ron's business and customer focus, and he also gave a shout out to Ron as a long-time race fan, a race car model builder, and even our search for the Loquasto-Schaefer car. Heck, even little ol' TMC got a mention!

Purty kewl if you ask me.


Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day weekend in simpler times

Sunday night the Cup drivers will fire 'em up to race 500 miles on Labor Day Atlanta. Up front, it feels great to have NASCAR back in the south this weekend where it belongs. Which old school song fits best? Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back in Town? Aerosmith's Back in the Saddle? Ray Charles' Georgia On My Mind?

Bottom line - NASCAR is not in southern California this weekend and that's a good thing.

But they're also not at Darlington. On Labor Day Monday.

I've only been able to attend one race at Darlington. It was the final Southern 500...well, before they chose to lift the name and artificially apply it to a Mother's Day weekend race. And to be completely honest, I didn't attend a sho-nuff Southern 500. I attended the Mountain Dew Southern 500 in November 2003 - a race won by Californian Jimmie Johnson.

Back in the day, however, life in the town of Darlington, the state of South Carolina, and the deep south overall focused on Darlington. They had a parade with grand marshals such as Goober from The Andy Griffith Show.

They had a Miss Southern 500 beauty pageant - not a fire-suited Miss Sprint.

The track had the Pure Oil Record Club to recognize the fastest qualifiers in each manufacturer. The club was later renamed the Unocal Darlington Record Club where Darlington first-time drivers had to pass a test given by the veteran drivers before being allowed to compete. As a veteran driver, A.J. Foyt still had to complete the test yet you think Joey Logano will have to do so?

The Darlington infield had enough rowdies to scare even the hardcores at Riker's Island. Yet, a bond existed amongst them with a fondness for racing, cold beer, and pretty ladies - although not necessarily in that order. This Johnny Russell song exemplifies the uniqueness of the infield community.

I contend from its beginnings until the late 1970s a Southern 500 victory may have been a more prestigious, rights-bragging, resume-padding win for a driver than the Daytona 500. Its difficult for me to even acknowledge that possibility because Richard Petty struggled to close the deal on wins at Darlington - bagging only three victories. Meanwhile, David Pearson made the track his personal bee-otch nabbing 10 victories over the years.

From day one, this blog has included links to several racing books I've enjoyed over the years. In this case, one book in particular jumps out as a "must read" for any old timer or noob looking to learn more about the history of NASCAR from the late 1960s through the early 1970s - Jerry Bledsoe's The World's Number One, Flat Out, All Time Great, Stock Car Racing Book. The book will have you laughing and also shaking your head at the fun stories captured by Bledsoe back then.

Racing at Darlington has so many great memories. Too many to blog at one time. And too many to be available on YouTube. :-) But here are a handful of some good 'uns.

1979 - Rookie Dale Earnhardt was injured in a bad accident at Pocono. As he recovered, David Pearson was hired to drive the Rod Osterland #2 Chevy. The Silver Fox had been fired by the Wood Brothers following the Rebel 500 at the same track earlier in the season after many successful seasons together. Even after being fired by the Purolator-sponsored Mercury team and hired by the unsponsored Chevy team, check out Pearson's attire in victory lane.

1980 - Terry Labonte from Texas made his Cup debut in the Southern 500 in 1978. Two years later, he pulled off an incredible move at the start/finish line to outfox the Silver Fox.

1985 - Awful Bill from Dawsonville cemented his place as a southern folk hero at Darlington in 1985. He had begun to gather a solid fan following in the early 1980s - particularly after winning his first race at Riverside in 1983. But in 1985, he drew fans like nobody's business as he won everything in sight in his Coors Ford. When he won the Southern 500 and collected the Winston Million big bucks bonus, his legacy was secured.

1965 - Cale Yarborough tries his Superman impression and leaves the yard. No HANS device. No COT. No full-face helmet. Simple aluminum seat. Limited roll bar padding. His adventure reminds me of Jimmy Horton's quote after he flew over the wall at Talladega: "You know you've had a really bad crash when the first guy to get to you is holding a beer can. "

I'll likely watch part of this weekend's race. But it simply won't be the same as watching those guys earn their Darlington stripes on that gritty, greasy, ill-shaped speedway a few hours to the northeast of Atlanta Motor Speedway.

And now that Cup has returned to the south this weekend, would it be asking way too much to restore "Dixie" to the race name?