The first WTH moment for me to challenge that thought was the 1983-1984 off-season. Petty left his family-owned team for Curb Motorsports. He scored wins at Dover and the iconic #200 at Daytona on July 4, 1984. It was, otherwise, a pretty rough stretch at Curb. But, he did drive an STP 43 car ... and he returned to Petty Enterprises in 1986 where he continued to drive through his retirement as a driver in 1992 with 43, STP and Dale Inman on the box.
Once the King retired from driving, Petty Enterprises went through a fair number of average drivers from 1993 through 2008. Drivers like Sick Wilson, Wally Fallinback, Jeff Gangreen, Bucksnot Jones, Christian Pitifuldi, etc. Fans saw a glimmer or two of hope with some good runs and three wins by Bobby Hamilton and John Andretti. And the story is well told of what the Pettys had hoped as its driver of the future: Adam Petty. But the hopes didn't play out as designed - and that's life. For the most part, STP hung in the pocket with many of those drivers.
What I did not anticipate, however, was the eventual collapse of Petty Enterprises. The 2008 acquisition by Boston Ventures and subsequent merger with Gillett Evernham Motorsports were disasters. A 2010 recapitalization of the team by Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron have given me a glimmer of renewed optimism, but each successive season has continued to be a tough way to go for the team.
Long gone is STP's predictable sponsorship of the 43. Now the more recently created Richard Petty Motorsports teams seem to struggle annually with locking in sponsorship dollars. Its a good thing cars are wrapped in vinyl these days instead of being painted because the Petty crews would go crazy trying to keep up with the painting for the myriad of sponsors and schemes that now adorn the 43.
The economics of the sport now dictate that most teams need multiple sponsors to run a full season. OK, I get it. Yet its frustrating to go from one season to another not knowing who the RPM sponsors are, what their funding commitment will be, who the primary will be, and will it be a company to create excitement for me as a fan.
Having said that, one aspect of Petty car that fans have loved since 1960 is the unmistakable hue of Petty Blue. The shade just pops off the track and catches the eye. (As opposed to the wretched neon Menard's yellow or garish GoDaddy green that jumps off the track and tries to make one hurl whatever Schaefer you've consumed.)
In my opinion, several companies, brands, products, and services would look ideal on the 43. If only RPM could sign 'em up to supplement their existing great sponsors such as Smithfield Foods and the United States Air Force. Here are a few examples.
Alka-Seltzer - I know The King is a long-time pitchman for Goody's Headache Powders, and the line between their products and Alka Setzer may be a fuzzy one (or a fizzy one?). But I'm certain arrangements could be made.
Aquafina - How about the ubiquitous water bottle? Aquafina is a Pepsico product. Before Kyle Petty returned to Petty Enterprises in the late 1990s with a personal services agreement with Coca-Cola, The King was a lifelong Pepsi man. In 2013, Kyle is no longer with the company, Petty Enterprises itself is no more, and RPM has an opportunity to help a company. Though Aquafina's background blue is not quite Petty blue, I believe both sides could reach a satisfactory compromise. After all, if The King and Andy Granatelli could work out their differences on an all day-glo STP red car vs. an all Petty blue car in 1972, I think Pepsico and RPM could resolve a few shades of blue or white tint.
Aqua Velva - Let's stay with the 'aqua' theme a moment. C'mon, cheap cologne and NASCAR fans? Natural fit, right? With Aqua Velva as a sponsor, Petty may even draw in some old school Earnhardt fans. Baa-doomp-BAH!
Credit: Jayski's 1999 Busch Series Paint Schemes Page
GE Healthcare - Obamacare is the law of the land. Obama said it. Congress didn't read the bill but voted for it anyway. The Supreme Court upheld it. And apparently the folks of the Grand Experiment we call 'merica *sigh* voted for more of it. Technology in healthcare is increasing with increasing speed. So GE seems like a natural to join forces with RP.
As with many companies suggested here, GE also had a brief dalliance with NASCAR. Its GE Reveal brand of lightbulbs sponsored Martin Truex's #1 car in 2009. Imagine how much more natural those colors would look on a Petty Blue 43.
Code Blue tools. A PERFECT color pattern to advertise on the 43 and challenge Kobalt tools advertised on Jimmie Johnson's 48 car. Yes, I understand Stanley Tools sponsors the second RPM team of Marcos Ambrose. But work with me here - its called brainstorming.
Philips Electronics - Again, this company had a brief history with NASCAR when it sponsored drivers such as Geoff Bodine and Michael Waltrip. But a relationship with RPM would be a far more solid platform for them to bring brand awareness to their product. Also, a co-founding member of the Schafer Hall of Fame is named Phillip. As a man who can sell ice to an eskimo and talk his way into Fort Knox, I'm convinced he could lobby to have a photo of himself wearing a 43 hat and SHOF shirt on a cardboard, point-of-sale display in Philip's retail stores.
Korean Air and/or KLM Airlines - Generally speaking, the airline industry wallows in the dumpster. Southwest Airlines is creative with its business model - including its marketing efforts. The rest of the industry tends to be a group of whiners. They blame high fuel costs, labor strife, training and maintenance needed for multiple types of aircrafts, increasing passenger demands for high quality frequent flyer programs (you know, the ones the airlines initially introduced??), expensive airport gate access charges, etc. I think if an airline wanted to go from a whiner to a winner they should sign on to sponsor the 43.
Imagine how gorgeous a 43 would look with the colors of Korean Air...
...or KLM Airlines. Plus, I personally know many Petty fans who would lustily scream Look at that 43 Fokker FLY baby!
Tech companies - Interestingly, I didn't realize until brainstorming possible sponsors just how many tech companies have logos that are at least in the ballpark of Petty blue. Intel, Bluetooth, and Twitter just to name a few. But two others stand out to me - Dell and Hewlett-Packard.
Dell makes a lot of sense because with so few letters in the brand's name, they can maximize the square inches of decal space on the car. Plus, the PA announcer at each race can easily articulate the two syllables for all the fans to hear ...and driving the DELL FORD... Even Larry McReynolds couldn't butcher the pronunciation of it. On the other hand, I wouldn't put it past him to remind everyone he was the crew chief when Dell Earnhardt won the Delltona 500.
King's favorite sandwich has long been just a mayo sandwich with salt and pepper on it. I understand too that Aric Almirola now drives the 43 - not Richard Petty. But whose name comes to mind when you see the car? Exactly. So I think Hellman's would be a welcome addition to the team.