Popular K. Petty driven by rebuilding

ON MOTOR SPORTS

Auto Racing

March 02, 2003|By Sandra McKee

Kyle Petty hasn't won a race since 1995, and after two races this season, he is 21st in the Winston Cup points standings.

But that doesn't mean he's not popular.

And it doesn't mean people aren't rooting for him.

For those who might not be Petty fans and have doubts about just how popular the son of seven-time champion Richard Petty is, consider this:

Rides with all 43 Winston Cup drivers around the track before today's UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 in Las Vegas were put out to bid in a charity auction that raised $110,000 Thursday for children's charities.

Only Tony Stewart ($6,400) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ($6,250) drew higher bids than Petty, who tied with Jeff Gordon at $5,500. Bill Elliott was fifth at $3,500.

You also might consider that fans and drivers have reached into their pockets for just over $12 million so far to support the construction and expense of the Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses that Petty is building in Randleman, N.C., in memory of his late son. Adam Petty was killed at the age of 19 during a practice run in May 2000 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

All of that gives Petty - an eight-time Winston Cup winner between 1979 and 1995 - a sense of comfort and well-being, because he has spent a good part of his life helping others.

But being popular and being well-liked and respected doesn't seem to be enough for him.

Shortly before the season started, Petty was in his team's garages at Petty Enterprises in Randleman. He swept his hand around, indicating the old, remodeled buildings, and said: "It's not the Taj Mahal that you see when you go to Dale Earnhardt Inc. or Roush Racing, but when you stand inside these buildings, you can see and feel 50-plus years of history."

Petty loves his roots, and though those roots were drying up when he was finally put in charge, he has been plotting and planning and nurturing them back to life with undisguised passion for more than three years.

"The most exciting thing for me is to see us rebuilding Petty Enterprises to being competitive in racing," he said that day. "The 2001 season was a horrendous year for us. We missed races. We had terrible results. But last year, we made huge gains. We pulled within sight of the top 20."

Petty is an unusual man in that he almost never shows public frustration - an appearance that, says his father, is a little misleading.

"He definitely gets frustrated," said Richard Petty, who was unable to stop his race team's decline in the last years of his on-track career. "He hides it good, though. And as he gets good people around him, the frustrations will ease."

For Kyle, it is a tall order to rebuild the operation in which his father and grandfather, Lee, forged their careers and where cars they owned won a Winston Cup-best 271 races.

Can Kyle Petty do it?

Richard Petty thought about that, unwilling to give a quick, positive, fatherly answer.

"I'm pulling for him," he said. "You hope for it. You pray for it. You hope for it because Kyle has a game plan, and he's a lot more forward-thinking and forward-looking than I ever was."

A lot of people are hoping for it.

D.C. Grand Prix

The Panoz Motor Sports Group, promoter of some of the world's most successful professional sports car races, is partnering with National Grand Prix Holdings LLC, founded by Chris Lencheski and George DeBidart, for the second annual Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington.

The event, featuring the Panoz-created American Le Mans Series, will be run June 27-29 in RFK Stadium's parking lots.

PMSG will augment the Lencheski group, lending expertise and experience by providing additional infrastructure and resources.

Among the issues the Panoz group will attempt to address are complaints of noise during last summer's race.

Snowbound in Hagerstown

With more than 2 feet of snow still on the ground from one of the hardest winters in Maryland history, Hagerstown Speedway has canceled this weekend's program and is flipping its schedule for the next two weeks. So, the revised cards:

1 p.m. next Sunday: a triple-header featuring the ITSI late models, Hoosier Tires Mid-Atlantic late model sportsman and Ernie's Salvage Yard Pure Stocks.

1 p.m. March 16: a double-header featuring big block modifieds and late models.

The rest of the March schedule remains the same: 1 p.m. March 23, small-block modifieds, late models and Modified Lites; 5:30 p.m. March 29, the Advance Auto Parts Modified Super DIRT Series and late models under the lights.

Nuts and bolts

The Formula One season begins next Sunday. It will be interesting to see how it develops, given the war of words between the sport's sanctioning body and its two most high-powered teams. Williams and McLaren see rule changes designed to cut costs for independents from $20 million a season to $1.5 million by 2006 as cutting into their economic advantage.

Did anyone see Scott, the documentary about the life of late stock car driver Wendell Scott that ran on the History Channel last Sunday?

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