King (of) Petty, Indeed

You don’t have to be much of a race fan to know who Richard Petty is.  You know…”The King” of NASCAR racing.  Seven-time champion.  200 career wins.  The “Petty Blue” #43 race car paint scheme.  

If you grew up in the South, perhaps you remember that Goody’s headache powder nearly became the third household staple behind bread and milk in the 1970s – purely on the basis of “King Richard’s” well-compensated endorsement.

I’m not a racing fanatic, but I’ve been to a race or two.  Growing up in Richmond and spending ten great years in Indianapolis, it was destined to happen.

And I’ve met “King Richard” – a couple of times, actually.  It doesn’t matter the circumstances of those brief encounters.  Regardless, on both occasions, I showed him due respect as a leader and chief ambassador for his sport.

Lately, though, I’ve been less enamored with Richard’s commentary.  Specifically, I think he’s choked on his own foot with all of his archaic yammering about one of NASCAR’s newer competitors, Danica Patrick.

Petty’s commentary has been just plain ugly.  He seems to suggest that Danica hasn’t earned her place in the starting lineup.  And he’s suggested that, in his advanced age (76), he could beat her on the racetrack.

What’s up, Richard?

I submit that Danica has earned her spot on the track as much as anyone else.  Clearly, she’s proven herself enough to be one of 43 fortunate to take the green flag each weekend.

Drivers, like other paid competitors, are paid to win.  They also have a responsibility to represent their teams and their sport well – while still active AND after they retire to enjoy the immense blessings their vocation has afforded them.  If they do it right, they perpetuate and advance their sport so doors are opened for others who follow them and fans continue to enjoy return on their investment of time, money, and emotion.  Simply, their responsibility to the “next-ups” does not end with their final checkered flag.

As the father of a young lady, I think Danica is pretty cool.  Her persistence and competitiveness send an important message to young ladies – pursue your dream, whatever it may be.  Never quit.  I don’t agree with all that she does, either.  But, inasmuch as I don’t necessarily endorse some of her ads and other aspects of her public persona, I recognize two things:  1)  Her persona may not be a true representation of her self; and 2)  It just isn’t ours to judge.  In any event, I think her tenacity and willingness to run with the Good Ol’ Boys is admireable.  Persistence isn’t a bad thing and, in that respect, she sets a good example.

Interestingly and alternatively, Richard’s success as a team owner hasn’t quite mirrored his time in the driver’s seat.  His organization’s last championship was in 1979 (Danica was born in 1982) and subsequent visits to Victory Lane have been so infrequent that he may need a GPS to find his way there.  After “The King” lost sponsorship for his team in 2008, he consolidated his organization into another race team, yet victories and championships remain elusive for Petty et al.  So, I wonder…maybe talent recognition isn’t his strongest skill.  Maybe he doesn’t know what it takes to compete today.  Perhaps he could ask Danica what it’s like to sit in a driver’s seat in 2014.

Petty has suggested that he could beat Danica, if given the chance.  I hope she takes that challenge – and smokes him.  After he loses, he should have to do the next Go Daddy ad in his swimsuit, except I don’t know that we’d be able to adequately treat the resulting cerebral cateract pandemic that would surely ensue.  I know my mind’s eye would be so affected.

At the end of the day, Richard and Danica can and should BOTH continue to serve NASCAR well, as it has served them so.   

Whether or not either is ever affiliated with another victory is immaterial.  They are ambassadors of their sport and generous sponsors to loyal fans.  Simply by showing up at the track – as Owner or Driver – both are economic engines that keep good, hard-working Americans employed.  They sell tickets, television contracts, souvenirs, other products, and services. 

Their combined spheres of influence are huge.  It’s simply unnecessary and irresponsible for them, as mutual pioneers, to use their stage for anything less than the collective good.

And so, I hope King Richard hears the call:  “Driver, start your engine!”  Please, Richard, get back on track.

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