It's a Petty bad mess for NASCAR

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:12 PM ET

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The saddest thing of all about the current mess at Richard Petty Motorsports is that one of the great names in all of professional sports is being dragged through the mud.

After all when it comes to NASCAR, even if your are not a big motorsports fan, Richard Petty is “The King” in more than just his nickname.

Like Gordie Howe is to the NHL and Bill Russell is to the NBA, Petty is synonymous with NASCAR.

He can — even decades after he retired as a seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion — draw a crowd no matter where he goes. Petty is and has been for more than five decades, the embodiment of NASCAR.

Now here he is, two seasons after selling his name and his race team to George Gillett Jr., nothing more than a spectator as Richard Petty Motorsports appears doomed to be lost in a shuffle of sports entities that includes the EPL Liverpool soccer club and the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.

But unlike the Molsons who took back the Canadiens from Gillett in 2008 and John Henry who bought Liverpool this week with his Boston Red Sox sports billions, there is nobody waiting in the wings to rescue RPM from the financial scrap heap it has become.

Petty doesn’t have a family fortune to reach into to buy back is team and his good name.

For the casual fan who read or heard this week that RPM was in arrears to the tune of $12 million U.S. for race cars and engines built by Roush Fenway Racing and that race cars were being repossessed, it was natural to assume it was Petty himself who was in trouble.

And when team star Kasey Kahne lashed out last Saturday alleging that RPM was cutting costs to the detriment of his No. 9 Ford team it was the Petty name that was front and centre.

The same family name that has been associated with NASCAR since Bill France founded the stock-car series back in 1948; the same name that accounts for those seven championships and 262 wins in Sprint Cup.

Petty could not have known that four generations of blood, sweat and tears would end up in such a sordid mess when he agreed to sell the business to Gillett in 2008.

He said at the time that he felt it was the only way the Petty dynasty could survive the crushing economic downturn in the U.S.

Petty genuinely believed that Gillett was the white knight that would keep the family at the forefront of the world’s top stock-car racing series.

And for the first season it appeared that it would.

The team inherited the talented Kahne from the former Gillett Evernham Motorsports group and signed former open-wheel star A.J. Allmendinger.

Only a few months ago RPM also signed popular Australian Marcos Ambrose to take over the No. 19 Ford of Elliott Sadler at the start of next season.

But then the banks — led by the Royal Bank of Scotland — let it be known that the big loans Gillett and his one-time partner Tom Hicks used to buy Liverpool were coming due and they wanted their money.

The sale of the Canadiens provided only temporary relief. So when Henry made a deal to essentially buy those loans from RBS, the dye was cast for RPM.

That Henry is also co-owner of Roush-Fenway — RPM’s biggest creditor — only accelerated the process.

While their appears some glimmer of hope — Roush Fenway returned the re-possessed cars on Friday after a partial payment was made — there is little doubt that RPM will not survive in its present form for long.

There were rampant rumours at Martinsville Speedway Friday that payrolls were not being met — although Kahne did announce that he has been paid in full by the team — and that layoffs at the team’s Concord, N.C., shop were imminent.

Richard Petty should not have to endure such indignity.


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