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Richard Petty
February 21, 1977
Richard Petty has won more NASCAR races than anyone in history (180). His nearest active rivals are David Pearson (97) and Bobby Allison (46). Here the three drivers tell how rough their rivalry can get
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February 21, 1977

Hot Blood Down In Dixie

Richard Petty has won more NASCAR races than anyone in history (180). His nearest active rivals are David Pearson (97) and Bobby Allison (46). Here the three drivers tell how rough their rivalry can get

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But Bobby kept coming after me, race after race. I think the reason was that he was king of the Modifieds and I was king of the Grand National circuit, and the guy coming up wants to knock off the champion. He had a Petty complex, but he didn't mean anything to me. I never had any trouble with anyone else, so why should I pick on him unless he started it? But once he started it, I had to retaliate. I couldn't let anyone run me off the racetracks. So, race after race, we started to bump and bend metal. It was fun for a while, but then it got to be plain pitiful. I think we both got scared. Someone was bound to get hurt if we kept it up.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no saint and never pretended to be. I've drafted cars that slowed down on me, and I've had to shove them a spell to get them going better. And a bunch of times I've come up behind somebody I've lapped maybe 10 or 15 times, and deliberately tapped him or maybe run him down off the track because he didn't belong out there racing. Now, you should be ashamed of doing something like that, because that poor fellow probably is running as good as he can and he'll get out of your way. But I do it, we all do. With our big old cars we can get away with it. But what Bobby and me were doing wasn't safe. It was becoming clear we couldn't get away with it forever. We were trying to knock one another right off the track at top speed and that's dumb. We could both see it, I'm sure.

But every time the two of us would cool down, the press would write something and it would heat up again. Finally, at Riverside in '72 or '73, Allison told his side to a writer, and it came out in the newspaper like he was all innocent. Maurice and I read it and it teed us off.

That night we ran into Eddie and Bobby Allison at a restaurant, and both sets of brothers went at it, mouthing off. Until then I never had said anything to the Allisons or anyone else about what was going on. This time I did. I said, "I'm not the sort of person who argues a lot and I don't intend to get into any arguments now. But I got something to say and I'm going to say it. I'm sick and tired of leaning on Bobby out there, and I think he's sick and tired of leaning on me. I think we both want to get back to racing. And we sure don't neither one of us want to get hurt. The next time I hear one word about Bobby and me beating on one another, I'm going to kick the hell out of whoever said it, and I don't care if it's Bobby or Eddie or Maurice or Dale." And I just turned around and walked off.

Next thing I know, Maurice has his arm around Bobby and they're just buddy-buddy and Eddie is talking to Dale about something. That's all it took to end it.

Still, it's not exactly like all the drivers are friends. Some of us are friends. Some of us aren't. Like in any group. When a bunch of guys are competing with one another, friendship goes just so far. You can't like someone so much or feel so sorry for him you don't want to beat him. When you get in a guy's way he's bound to be upset by it. When you beat him he's not going to like it. And if you're one of the good ones and he's not, he's going to be jealous of you.

But, we are all "close" because we are sort of set apart from other people. The things we feel about this sport, no outsider could know. So we sympathize with one another and we understand one another and we stick together a lot. I feel like I have buddies in this sport but no close friends. I just try to treat everyone decent. Not just drivers. Even writers. They call me King Richard and that's fine if that's the way people see me, but I don't feel like King Richard. I don't feel like I'm any better a person than anyone else just because I may be on top of this sport and he may not be. He may be a better person than I am. And I think David and Bobby both treat people decent. They're good to the other drivers and I don't see them lord it over the others. But I don't know what they think of me. What do they say?


When I'm racing Richard, I'm really racing. I don't know which one of us is better, but I'd rather be me than him. The last 10 years or so I've won my share. Since I signed on with a top team, I've won more superspeedway races and more of those close finishes between us than he has.

I don't take him for granted, so there's no reason for him to take me for granted. If he trusts me, fine. I trust him. But you don't trust an opponent to the point where you don't watch him every turn of the way.

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