Does History Repeat Itself?


(photo courtesy of Leon Hammack)

If the announced merger of Richard Petty Motorsports and Yates Racing comes to fruition, it  means the the new organization will be competing in Fords.   RPM will then end its association with Chrysler.

For many decades in NASCAR, Petty Enterprises and Chrysler were synonymous.  The Petty Plymouths and Dodges have won races, championships, and set records throughout the history of NASCAR.  They have, in fact, became the most famous race cars in NASCAR history!

Petty Enterprises, as it was known for decades, has split from Chrysler on more than one occasion.  They have competed under the banner of Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac, and even Ford!  Once again history is about to repeat itself.

Back in 1968, after many successful years in the Plymouth camp, Petty Enterprises signed a one year agreement with Ford Motor Company to race its 1968 Torino.  This agreement came about because, as hard as this is to believe,  Petty was dissatisfied with his 1968 season, despite winning 16 races!  The previous year, 1967, Petty had won 27 races.

The switch to Ford angered the Chrysler executives.  The Plymouth fans were equally distraught!  After all those years with Plymouth and Chrysler race cars, how could their favorite driver pull such a switch?

Shortly after the agreement with Petty, Ford shipped haulers full of pieces and parts to Petty’s shop in Level Cross, N.C.  Race engines were were acquired form the famous engine builder, Holman-Moody, which was in fact, a Ford subsidiary.

In Petty’s first race with Ford in 1969, he won the the race on the road course at Riverside Raceway in California.  The other Ford competitors  in the garage immediately thought that Petty was getting preferential treatment from Ford.  But things began to fall apart really quickly.  In the next race, the Daytona 500, Petty’s engines didn’t have nearly enough horsepower as those of the other Ford teams.  Petty qualified 12th and finished 8th.
Richard Petty’s brother and engine builder, Maurice, thought something was not quite right.  He was able to gain possession of an engine destined for another Ford team, when it was used Richard Petty picked up another 10mph faster!  Henceforth, Maurice built all of Ricard Petty’s engines and Holman-Moody was fired!  However, that didn’t fix all of Petty’s problems.  Petty felt that he was handicapped at the superspeedways, and didn’t win a race at either of them that year.

To combat Ford’s perceived horsepower advantage, Chrysler decided to cut the drag by making their car much more aerodynamic.  In time two new  race cars were designed, the Dodge Daytona and the Plymouth Superbird!  They were equipped with that, now classic, outlandish “rear wing”.  In June 1969, Chrysler officials met with Petty, who was aware of those radical rear winged cars.  It was agreed that that Plymouth would build one if he would drive it.

Additionally in the agreement, Petty wanted to be the lone distributor for all of  Chrysler’s racing parts.  That was a sweet deal for Petty Enterprises, which announced in December of 1969 that it was returning  to the Chrysler fold.

It all paid off handsomely for  both Petty and Chrysler.  Petty won four races on tracks of a mile or more in distance and newly acquired teammate, Pete Hamilton, won the Daytona 500 and both races at Talladega the following year. The Chrysler teams in all won 38 out of 48 races in 1970.  However, the following year Chrysler reduced the affiliation down to just a two car team from Petty Enterprises.

When the merger with Yates Racing becomes a reality, that will leave Chrysler/Dodge supporting just the three car team of Penske Racing.

In deed, NASCAR history does repeat itself!


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