Friday, October 22, 2010

It was sad

It was sad,….
A lot more was lost this week than just a race team. In a time long, long ago, in a place that now seems far, far away, 1958, Richard Petty began his racing career.

Years ago a popular "gather-'round-the-campfire" song for children at summer camp was a tune which had a chorus of,…

It was sad (…oh, it was sad)

It was sad (…it was sad)

Oh, it was sad when the great ship went down,…

An oddly haunting refrain about the sinking of the Titanic.

A great ship went down this week, Richard Petty Motorsports, RPM. Only a couple of years more than a decade ago companies stood in line, literally, to pay (a lot) to have a little decal on the B pillar of the 43 car. But times change and somehow RPM didn't, they stayed in Level Cross when all the other teams set up shop in the Concord-Mooresville area. NASCAR entered the engineering era, driven in no small part by Hendrick who hired Gary Eaker from the GM wind tunnel to run their aerodynamics program--with Ray Evernham who obsessed about data for an up-start kid named Jeff Gordon; the age of specialization produced a string of championships.

The change was so dramatic that by 1994 Earnhardt Sr. remarked "there ain't gonna be no more Alan Kulwicki's."  As prophetic as the grammar was bad, the age of the lone owner, builder, crew chief, driver was over.

Where RPM had been fast on the track they were now slow on the learning curve. By the time RPM did move to Concord it was too little too late. Like watching a Greek tragedy unfold, this day of final doom seemed inevitable when RPM merged with GEM, Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, the sorry remnants of what had been Evernham Racing. GEM was anything but a gem, as Gillett seems to have gone from junk bond scandal to hockey to football teams in England (otherwise called soccer) to NASCAR, each step along the way building a larger house of cards on ever larger amounts of debt.

The sad part is that by the time RPM tried to join the modern era the choices were so slim it made the GEM deal seem like a good idea, or the grasp of a drowning operation clutching at anything still afloat.

It is impossible to imagine that Jack Roush ever wanted to beat Richard Petty as a car owner this way--on the track, yes, every week--by scheming mortgage deals: never.

NASCAR has become a "product," fueled entirely by sponsor dollars, defined by marketing, the great ship of racing has slipped beneath the sea,…

It was sad (…oh, it was sad)

It was sad (…it was sad)

Oh, it was sad when the great ship went down


  1. It is sad. I think we all lose something to have what is a relatively little team in this sport go away. Specially one with such a proud racing heritage as Petty. I have been priviledged to have seen nearly Richards entire career. King Richard, thank you for all you have given the racing fan.

  2. RPM is not closed; it sounds as if this person has decided there is to be no more Richard Petty and that is not so. All organizations go through turmoil, some discussed in the media and some privately. Sadly, Richard and family have never been able to have any privacy in dealing with issues rather business or personal. hang in there...

  3. Susan,
    True enough, RPM is not closed, but the team is now a mere ghost of what it once was. Not that long ago RPM was NASCAR, or close to it; when one thought of racing the image of Richard immediately came to mind---but, sadly, not any more.

  4. "RPM" did not exist "not that long ago".

    Or are you one of those revisionists who states that Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt each have seven "Sprint Cup" championships.

  5. MGJ,
    Seem to miss the point here: technically the legal entity is very recent; Richard Petty was the "face of NASCAR" for many years, and having his hame attached to a sinking ship harkens the sad demise of a bygone era.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with you there. It is sad to see Richard Petty's name associated with a mess such as Evernham->GEM->RPM has become.

    If one can fault "The King" for anything, it is not knowing when to get out when the getting is good. He hung around driving several years longer than he probably should have, and now the same might be said for staying in the ownership game, such as it is.

  7. MGJ,
    At nearly age 70 I appreciate the difficulty of knowing when to quit; I've been fortunate as my vocation is engineering and science. However, I also played hockey, did wind surfing, mountain climbing and in my mid to late 50's drove a race car. It was extraordinarily painful to quit those physical contests, and I was merely an amatuer. Had I been world famous at one of those pursuits it is very easy to see how ego and pride could trump good sense.