Kyle Petty’s gift of gab great for television role

Kyle Petty, right, shown with Krista Voda and fellow retired driver Dale Jarrett, says he enjoys offering insights on the racing storylines. “Krista is amazing,” Petty said. “She is the traffic cop at the desk that kind of pitches the softballs to Dale and me and we talk about what we know.” (NBC Sports/Grant Halverson)

Kyle Petty, right, shown with Krista Voda and fellow retired driver Dale Jarrett, says he enjoys offering insights on the racing storylines. “Krista is amazing,” Petty said. “She is the traffic cop at the desk that kind of pitches the softballs to Dale and me and we talk about what we know.” (NBC Sports/Grant Halverson)

DOVER — A rainy day sometimes isn’t so bad in the NASCAR world.

Kyle Petty, though, now understands it’s a bit different when television requires him to fill air time.

“Here’s the problem,” said Mr. Petty. “If you’re a race car driver or work on a race car, it’s OK for it to rain once in a while because everybody sits around and lies to each other and tells stories.

“When you do it on TV, you can’t lie or tell some of the stories you might tell in the back of a hauler.”

Mr. Petty, along with Dale Jarrett and Krista Voda, started the July Daytona pre-race show at 5 p.m., three hours ahead of the race’s planned starting time. It rained all day. NASCAR ended up starting the Coke Zero 400 race at 11:42 that night.

“We were on the air 6½-7 hours before the race came on,” he said. “They’re the hard times because you run out of things to say.”

From the Editor logo copy copyMr. Petty is on the NBC Sports pre-race and post-race team for today’s scheduled race at Dover International Speedway.

With a weekend of wet weather, he will benefit from his gift of gab.

“That’s never been a problem for me,” Mr. Petty said.

He credits his mother, the late Lynda Petty.

“My dad (racing legend Richard Petty) is one of those guys that when he talks, people listen because he doesn’t talk that much,” Mr. Petty said. “He answers your question and he moves on.

“I think my mom had a story for everything. And, being around her and watching her and how she dealt with people, I think I took more from my mom for storytelling.”

***

Mr. Petty said he appreciates NBC’s commitment to engaging viewers with people stories.

“It’s the story, it’s the athlete,” Mr. Petty said. “It’s the Tony Gibson (crew chief for Kurt Busch’s team) having his appendix out on a Tuesday, dragging himself to New Hampshire and putting his car in a chance to win the race.

Another story Mr. Petty tossed out was the tested friendships of Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson, who both slept in a game room at fellow driver Ron Hornaday’s house years ago when they were getting started. The two drivers — following a confrontation at Chicagoland Speedway after the first Chase championship event — are in “a different phase of their friendship or who they are as drivers,” said Mr. Petty.

“That’s what brings fans.”

Racing’s about people, he said.

“You go to a race track and it is a sad place when there is no race going on,” he said. “It’s just a bunch of empty seats and a concrete ribbon going around it. You go to a racetrack and if you just had cars out there going around, it’s still a sad place. Just go out to the interstate and watch. It’s the same thing.

Today’s Jeff Gordon’s last ride at Dover. He’s retiring this year at the age of 44. NASCAR fans know that Richard Petty and Bobby Allison raced into their 50s. Kyle Petty offered some perspective, noting that they raced against young guys in their late 20s. The trend now is drivers starting younger and likely retiring earlier. “Now that they’re retiring at 43 and 44, will they move that number down? Will they move that down to 40 eventually or will they move that down to the mid-30s? Will they become like the NFL and the NBA where you have a good 10 or 12 or 15-year period when you’re productive and then they give you the boot and put a 12-year-old in your seat? “That seems to be the trend. You know, Jeff Gordon just set an iron man record. Will we ever see that again? That’s a record like my father’s 200 wins. I don’t think we’re ever going to see that anybody break that because the model changed. That’s a phenomenal record to think that he’s not missed a race since 1992 when he first set in one. That’s crazy. That’s crazy when you look at like that, and you look at what he’s been through.” (Photo by Gene Shaner)

 

“You’ve got to give those fans a connection to that guy that’s sitting in the car.”

***

For decades, the Petty family has enjoyed a fan-friendly reputation.

Kyle Petty has taken it in the modern direction with social media. He has 179,000 followers on Twitter and some of the conversations have been spirited.

He says passionate fans have had some great ideas about improving NASCAR racing and he appreciates how passionate they can be.

“Kenny Wallace said to me one day, ‘I cannot believe some of the tweets you get and some of the things people say to you.’ And, I’m like, ‘I don’t know these people and they don’t know me,’” he said. “I’ve got skin as thick as the concrete in Dover.

“I grew up as Richard Petty’s son and people would say stuff to me my whole life. I’ll go with you all day long, but when you go personal, I realize you’ve run out of intellect and you’ve run out of things to say so I move on to the next person.”

***

Kyle Petty has never quite fit the NASCAR mold.

He raced from 1979 to 2008, winning eight races. His last win was the 1995 Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Dover International Speedway.

In 1994, this editor wrote a feature on Mr. Petty. The lead was, “His is a story of hair, Harleys and Hemingway.”

He still sports the pony tail and still loves to ride. He said he didn’t have time for a motorcycle trip to Dover again this fall.

Mr. Petty, asked if he’s still an avid reader of greats such as Ernest Hemingway and Eudora Welty, laughed after hearing that Thursday.

“It’s funny because I have been re-reading Faulkner lately,” he said. “I just run in circles with that same group of people.

“You spend so much time traveling, in airports and in hotel rooms. I take my guitar with me everywhere I go. I ride every chance I get. It’s just another way to escape. I just grew up going to race tracks and around people all the time.

You sit in traffic to get in a race track and you sit in traffic to get out.

“There are thousands of people everywhere. When you drove and did that, everybody wanted to talk and be around.

There was always something and you felt like you had to be the clown in the middle of the circus.

“Just to get into a book or the guitar or be alone on a motorcycle, it is an escape. It’s a quiet place where you can go. It’s my Zen moments, I guess.”

Wild ride in Dover

Kyle Petty’s pit lane experience in the 1970s, he said, is one of his favorite Dover International Speedway stories.
Asked to share a recollection, he thought about it for a second.

“Here’s one of my best memories,” he said. “I’m going to tell you this one. This is going to be crazy.

“We came to Dover, I must have been 14 or 15, and I carried tires for my Dad on pit stops.

“He had a cool suit at the time and a cool head unit. You would put a frozen canister down in a box inside the car.

And, water would circulate around it and through his uniform to keep him cool.

“We had a pit stop and Dale Inman, the crew chief, told me to change it. So I run around and open the top of the box and I couldn’t get the canister out. And, so my Dad goes back out and Dale says, ‘Did you get the canister?’

“No, didn’t get it.”

“He said, ‘What do you mean you didn’t get it?’

“Didn’t get it.”

“Remember this is a time in the sport when there may only be two or three cars on the lead lap and pit stops were big, but not as critical as they are today. So he brings him back in again.

“I get in the car on the right side. I’m sitting on the window sill with my legs inside and my chin on the roof of the car and I’m trying to pry this thing out, know what I mean? The caution car comes off the corner and he takes off. We get to the end of pit road and he slows down.

“I fall off the back of the car in the middle of pit road. He takes off back around the race track.

“I run back down to the pits. We were probably six or seven pits away. I run back and Dale says, ‘Did you get it out?’

“Nope, didn’t get it.”

“So he said OK, we got to come in again. The third time we come in, he said ‘I’m going to show you how to get it out.’

And he just reached in and just lightly lifted it out.

“It fit in such a tight container that if you snatched on it, it was like Chinese finger cuffs.

“You couldn’t get your fingers out of it. But if you moved real slow, it came right out.

“He said, ‘That’s the way you take them in and out.’”

“Got it.”

Reach Executive Editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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