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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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The thing about that Daytona race is you do almost anything to beat the other guy, and you do different things in different races. Which is what I did that time all the fuss started: I made Richard pass me so I could draft him and slingshot around him coming off the fourth turn to win...and it worked.

Richard was mad because he got beat. And maybe because I did the unexpected. It's no good if he knows what to expect from me every time. I haven't done it since, because I know he's looking for it.

In a race when one of us has a car that is a lot better than the other's, it's no race. But in a race when one of us is just a little better—well, to win the race you have to outfox the other guy and that's what I did. I slowed when he wasn't expecting it, and he had to go around me. Nothing wrong with that. The situation doesn't come up a lot anyway. There are only a couple times a year maybe that there is just the two of us together at the end.

I don't know if you could say he got back at me at Talladega. My car was a mess and my back window was coming out. I couldn't keep up. I took advantage of the one chance I had to pass him. He didn't trick me into passing him. Instead of a slingshot, I thought my best chance was to try to hold him off. I couldn't. So he won that one, that's all there was to it.

That race was five weeks after Daytona, but Richard was still so mad he didn't just drive by me, he scraped by me. But, I'll tell you, I'd rather rub fenders with Richard than compete clean with some of those other cats, they are crazy at times. If Richard was scraping the side of my car, it was because he wanted to. He always knows what he's doing.

To tell the truth, I'm more relaxed running close to Richard than anybody else. He is smooth. He'll run the same groove at the same speed all day long if he can. He's consistent. He'll take the turns the same way all day. A lot of those other drivers, you don't know what they'll do. They'll go in hard one time, back off another time. Not Richard.

But when we get down to the last laps, I don't take anything for granted. One thing for sure, he's just not going to let me get past him. He can use up a lot of track. And if he wants to pass me, he will go low one time and high another. He'll put the pass on in a turn one time and on a straight another.

I don't think he's physically as strong as some of us, but he's mentally as strong as any of us. He just makes up his mind he's going to race 500 miles and at the end he's there. Other drivers may be better on a given day, but it seems like Richard is there every day. He drives smart and hard and he has to be one of the best ever. And you have to respect his record, which is the best ever.

But Richard's like the rest of us. He isn't perfect. None of us are. We all take chances at times. We all go where we shouldn't go. We all make mistakes. But you shouldn't be racing if you aren't willing to take a chance and go at times, if you're afraid of making a mistake.

I've made a couple of moves in races that I wish I hadn't. They cost me a lot. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't have made them. It just means they didn't work. I had to take a chance to beat Richard at Daytona that day. There'll come another day when Richard will take a chance to beat me, you'll see.

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