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.
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.
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.