It became evident that more than a new look was needed. Petty Enterprises had already moved from its original site-in Level Cross, N.C., starting as Lee Petty Engineering in 1949-which was a good 60 miles from other race teams. Richard and Kyle Petty relocated to Mooresville to be closer to media and NASCAR personnel near the greater Charlotte area, and immediately hired Jeff Meendering, Jeff Gordon’s former car chief. Neither step was cheap, so money had to be coming in to meet the future needs of a company wanting to grow.
‘King’ Richard admits that he and his organization have not kept up with the business side of NASCAR, that as advances were made, he and his racing son did not adapt or change with the times. His drivers have not won a race since 1999, and something had to be done. It may not be the end of an era and a sign of the Apocalypse-as some have dramatized-but the time has come to compete or get out, Petty says.
So he moved, and then came bigger news. As the team got further behind after 60 years and 10 championships, NASCAR’s all-time race winner began to hold serious discussions with investors, similar to what Jack Roush and Ray Evernham, et al., have done in recent years, and found what he was looking for. Petty Enterprises is still a family business that is majority owned by someone else: Boston Ventures, a private equity firm involved with multiple corporations through the years, including ESPN and National Enquirer. The Pettys lose controlling interest but keep three board seats; BV will get four. The new CEO is David Zucker, replacing Kyle Petty. One of Zucker’s former titles was Chief Operating Officer for Playboy Enterprises.
Kyle will continue to race after this season, but it hasn’t been determined whether he will go full- or part-time. Richard will carry the nameplate of Chairman Emeritus, normally an honorary title, and insists he will stay active and influential. Two full rides are anticipated in 2009 with another car running a partial schedule. The team hopes to have at least three full-time drivers by 2010. The Richard Petty Driving Experience was included in the mega-deal.
The new suits claim to be NASCAR fans, but mispronounced Bobby Labonte’s name without correcting themselves in front of assembled media on June 11. Labonte, by the way, is sticking with Petty Enterprises for four more years, he announced that same morning.
Progress will not be instant and improvement may be gradual, but it’s on the way, the Pettys say. Talk of a five-year plan has doubters believing the new company will play for time if advancement is slow, hoping things eventually turn around as more money is spent.
Richard and Kyle are eternal optimists. They believe-are absolutely certain-that this was the right move to make.
Look for more news and new hires in the coming weeks and months.