Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Sad Times At Petty Enterprises

Petty Enterprises released 39 employees yesterday, bringing the total number of layoffs since season’s end to approximately 65. ESPN.com reports that about 54 employees remain, all of whom are anxiously awaiting word from the company on the status of a reported merger with Gillett-Evernham Motorsports that could save their jobs, at least for now.

What a sad, sad turn of events for a team that was once universally acknowledged to be NASCAR's finest.

Not so long ago, Petty Enterprises was the New York Yankees, the Montreal Canadiens and the Green Bay Packers, all rolled into one. Richard Petty stormed to seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, adding to the three collected by his legendary father, Lee. Third-generation driver Kyle Petty was winning – if not contending for titles – at the uppermost level of the sport, and Kyle’s son Adam showed every sign of extending the family dynasty for at least another generation.

Then it all began to go terribly wrong.

Teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Roush-Fenway and Joe Gibbs Racing evolved almost constantly over the years, fielding multi-car teams and implementing engineering-based approaches in response to the changing times. Petty Enterprises, however, remained grounded in their old-school ways, fielding single cars built by men with wrenches in their hands, rather than slide rules.

NASCAR grew and thrived in Charlotte, NC, while the Pettys remained in their cozy little shop, next door to the Level Cross, NC house where “King Richard” was born.

Then Adam Petty’s promising career ended in a horrific crash in Loudon, NH, leaving the team without a legacy for the first time in its history.

It’s been decades since Petty Enterprises has truly been competitive. Their last win came with John Andretti at Martinsville in 1999, and even then, the days of Petty dominance were long past. Their last championship came 30 years ago, when The King clinched his seventh and final title, and they have not been part of any serious championship discussion in more than a quarter century.

The iceberg was struck long ago, and the ship has been taking on water for years. Now, Petty Enterprises is listing badly to starboard, and it is unclear whether the GEM merger will prove to be anything more than ceremonial bilge-pumping. There has been no comment from anyone on either side of the Petty/GEM aisle since reports of the merger broke last week, other than Kyle Petty confirming that he no longer plays any role with the team.

“Maybe it’s the time to close the doors and go do something else,” said Petty. “I know my father is struggling with it really hard. He is really, really struggling with where the company’s at, what the company is doing and how this thing has played out.”

"Just three weeks ago, Richard Petty gave an unintended glimpse at the level of desperation that almost certainly surrounds his race team these days, saying, "Mergers…are an emergency situation. If you're drowning, then you're going to get a partner to drown with you. That's basically what it looks like it's going to be. But if they go together, maybe they don't drown."

Hopefully, the rescue ship has arrived in time to scoop a few survivors from the water.

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