Petty Enterprises, NASCAR’s oldest team, has been saved from extinction by merging with Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Petty and Gillett Evernham have been trying to make a deal for the best part of a year and it was confirmed yesterday that terms have been agreed with details to be revealed when the transaction closes around the end of this month. The team will be rebranded and will run three Dodges in all Sprint Cup races out of Gillett Evernham’s shop in Statesville, North Carolina. A fourth car will run eight races. Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and presumably Kyle Petty will be among the team’s regular drivers.
The Petty team was started by grandfather Lee Petty who raced in NASCAR’s inaugural season sixty years ago. Lee won three NASCAR championships in 1954, ‘58 and ‘59 before handing the reins to his son Richard Petty who went on to become NASCAR’s most successful driver winning 200 races and seven championships between 1964 and ’79. Richard’s cars almost invariably carried number 43 and the pairing of driver and number became an icon of NASCAR history. ‘The King’ finally retired in 1992 and the torch was taken up by his son Kyle who has won eight Cup races over the years and continues to race today at forty-eight despite winning only once in the past sixteen years.
Kyle is a bright, amiable fellow but the team has struggled in recent years to find both competitive speed and sponsorship. 2000 Sprint Cup champion Bobby Labonte joined the team three years ago but in these trying economic teams Petty Enterprises’ condition went from dire to desperate. Labonte was released a few months ago because the team could not guarantee him anything for 2009. So the team’s merger with Gillett Evernham keeps the Petty name and #43 on the track.
Gillett Evernham came into being ten years ago as a partnership between Ray Evernham and Dodge. Evernham had won three NASCAR championships as the crew chief on Jeff Gordon’s Hendrick Chevrolets and Evernham ran the team for seven years primarily with Dodge’s backing. But Evernham soon discovered he needed a business partner and after a long search he found the right man in George Gillett Jr. who joined Evernham three years ago.
Gillett’s company produces sports and entertainment events and he owns the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens and, of course, the Premier League’s Liverpool Football Club. Now he owns the Petty brand and #43 as well and everyone hopes it will lead to a resurgence for the legendary name and number. We wish the new combination good luck on the tough road ahead.