kyle petty interview: driver marketability and the future of petty enterprises

Driver Kyle Petty speaks to the media to announce the construction of a new Victory Junction camp while his wife Pattie looks on prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway. (Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)Hello! Today has been insane let me tell ya, but the one awesome thing has been writing up this final post of my interview with Kyle Petty. Again, this interview was done last week during Kyle’s promotion of Prostate Cancer Awareness Week.


Me: In regards to Prostate Cancer Awareness, a lot of the readers of my website are women, what’s the most important thing that they can do for their husband or father to help them to go out there and see a doctor about this?

Petty: When had our STAY ON TRACK for Better Prostate Health booth set up at Michigan I was surprised at the amount of women who came through and would bring their husbands, or would say “My father had prostate cancer, it runs in our family and I’m trying to get my brothers to go and I really appreciate you guys speaking up on it.”

I think prostate cancer for so many people and especially guys, guys just are afraid to go be checked. And just like I said before, as my father uses the example of putting together a pit crew for his prostate cancer, I think so many guys will baby their car, change the oil, do everything they can with their car and their lawnmower, and their fishing boat or whatever it may be but they disregard their body.

It’s easier when your family is part of the decision, part of the process and I think that’s the way we were. My mother and my sisters, when my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer it was almost a rallying cry and a rallying point for us to be a part of the program also, to be apart of the pit crew and the decision making process. So I think as long as the wives and the daughters and the girlfriends and the mothers will get behind it and continue to talk about it and continue to put it out in front of their husbands then obviously it becomes a focal point.

Me: So talking about the current NASCAR season. Are there any drivers that you see that haven’t been getting a lot of attention, that aren’t in the Chase, but that you see as up and coming drivers that you think will someday be Championship contenders?

Petty: Oh yea. Once we get to this stage of the year, and you start looking at the Chase, and you’ve got the twelve drivers in the Chase, and the twelve drivers in the Chase are guys that have won Championships, who have won races and who are really the mainstay of the sport. I think you drop back and you look at guys like Aric Almirola, you look at guys like David Ragan, you look at guys like AJ Allmendinger, guys that are coming in and just coming into the sport over the last two or three years.  They’re the guys you’re going to be talking about in the next five and six years and the next ten years. And then there’ll be another group that comes along; it’s a very cyclical sport. That’s the way it’s always been. As one group ages out another group comes in.

I think the sport is incredibly healthy when young talented drivers that will carry-on and continue to win races and have good rides and work with good teams and are working with people to grow the sport. So the sport is probably getting guys that you didn’t hear much about this year but who you’ll continue to hear more about in years to come.

Me: I actually spoke to Dale Jarrett a couple weeks ago and I asked him what the biggest difference he’s seen in the drivers coming into the league has been over his career obviously. He noted that the age of the drivers is the biggest difference, that they’re so young now. Would you agree with him and do you think that’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the drivers coming in?

Petty: Yea, I think Dale kind of came to the same cycle not to a different degree than I did. He ran late model stuff and all that, so he didn’t get a shot in the Nationwide Series until he was in his mid-20s. And by the time he gets to the Cup level where he’s winning races and has a shot at the Championship he’s in his late 20s, early 30s. Where now you’ve got guys that come in when they’re 18- and 19-years-old and they’ll get their shot at Championships and winning races and stuff ten, eight years sooner than that. So I think when you look at it that has been a major change.

If I go back and look at Dale Earnhardt Sr., and Terry Labonte and Harry Gant and those guys when they came along 30 years ago their rookie year, those guys were already in their early 30s for their rookie year. Now you’ve got guys that are ten or 12 years younger than them in their rookie year, so that has been a major thing. The guys that come along are so talented. There is so much talent in these young drivers. Their marketing potential and what they can do not only on the race track but off the race track is so great that the opportunities that the sport affords them are a lot different than what they were 5 years ago, or 10 years ago or as much as 20 years ago. So that has been the biggest change.

Me: Do you ever think that the marketing potential of someone ever overshadows their actual racing talent? It’s still obviously talent first and then…

Petty: It’s a balance. It is a balance. I don’t think one overshadows and it’s funny we’ve been talking about it over the last few weeks. There’s plenty of guys that can drive racecars that are not marketable and they can win races, that’s fine. But the guy that’s selling Coca-Cola he’s wanting to market his product too and just because you win a race, if you can’t walk and talk and chew gum at the same time and speak intelligently about the product then you’re going to struggle to find sponsors. And no matter how many races you win if you don’t have sponsors it doesn’t work.

So I think there’s a balance in line there. If you’re on one side and your all marketability and no talent then you’re not going to make it and If you’re all talent and no marketability you’re not going to make it. So there’s that balance in this sport and in this industry that you kind of straddle both sides.

Me: Where do you stand in your career right now and what do you see in the future for you and Petty Enterprises?

Petty: Good question, for me I’m not sure. Obviously where we’re at with Bobby Labonte or Chad McCumbee, or where we’re at with our teams and our sponsors I don’t know where I fit in that program next year. Hopefully I’ll be able to run a few races and that’s kind of what we’ve talked about from the very beginning.

I think Petty Enterprises is headed in a direction that it’s never been in before. We’ve taken on an investor in Boston Ventures. They’re apart of our team now and helping to run the team and I think as we move forward they’ll run it more from a business standpoint but we always run it more from a sports standpoint. It’s a different philosophy but it’s a positive philosophy and I think as we move forward we’ll be able to see benefits in the future. But it’s going to be slow. It’s going to take time. It’s not going to happen next year. We’re just going to have to keep working at it.

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