The root of the
situation that developed between Richard and me was it came at a time when we
were the only two people who were totally competitive race after race. He was
established, the top guy, and I was just coming on. He seemed to take the
attitude he shouldn't be challenged. But I go into every race with the
intention of doing whatever it takes to win, and so does he. And our talent is
close enough so, if our cars are about equal, sometimes he'll win and sometimes
I'll win. We got to leaning on each other for a while, but I still respect him
and I think he respects me.
For a few years
there we did bend each other's cars. Some races were worse than others. In that
race in North Carolina where it all started, I had led almost all the way. Then
he took the lead coming out of the pits after a caution flag, but I was quicker
so I was ready to repass him. When I came up behind him, I hit him on the back
bumper, twice. You can decide for yourself if it was misjudgment on my part.
The fact is, he slowed down in front of me both times. You know the fuss about
Pearson braking in front of Richard at Daytona? Well, that's what Petty did to
me. The third time I tried to get by Richard, he went one place to block me and
I went another place to pass him and it surprised him. I made my pass and won.
True, I side-swiped him going by but he hadn't given me the room I needed to
make a clean pass. Every driver feels he has a right to a certain place on a
track, and when another driver tries to take it from him, he may get mad. That
was 1967, the year Richard won 27 races, and I don't think anyone had really
raced him on a short track all year. It just upset him to get competition.
The next year we
had another rough race, at Islip, N.Y. on what we used to call the Northern
Tour. He had the field beat bad and I was way back in second. But I was still
running hard in the hope that something would happen to him that would let me
win. I was passing a slower car on this one-fifth-mile track, so we were
running two abreast in tight quarters but this guy wouldn't move over for me.
Then Richard came up to lap me and I wouldn't move over for him. The officials
gave me the move-over flag, but I decided I'd gotten there first and I was as
entitled to make my pass as Richard was to make his. Well, Richard ran right
into me and bent his fender in on his tire. He had to pit and I won the race. I
feel like he decided to hit me that time. I don't think it was supposed to be
tap-tap-tap; it was supposed to be a cah-LUNK. So, after that, I didn't
hesitate to cah-LUNK him when the opportunity arose. We got to looking for each
other, if you know what I mean. It just went on and on. Not race after race,
but year after year.
Then there were
those fights. But remember, they weren't between Richard and me. They were
between Richard's crew and me. Not his crew and my crew, but Richard's crew and
me. Maurice and some other members of the Petty team were always shouting
stuff. One time Maurice said he wanted to talk to me and the talk turned out to
be a swing. I can accept that, but he knocked me down and while I was down
another member of the crew kicked me. Actually, Maurice knocked me down two
times and this other guy kicked me the other time, too. I don't recall ever
running, but I have never pretended to be a fistfighter. I'm not afraid to
fight, but it's not the way I want to earn my living. I sure don't think it
settles disputes on the track.
Of course the
press built it up bigger than it was. I remember after one race when we didn't
do anything but pass each other three or four times, the stories made it seem
like we were firing from machine guns mounted on our cars. And on more than one
occasion, we raced each other straight up and then laughed later when they
wrote it up like it was war. It wasn't as bad as it seemed.
The thing is, I
think it was the third parties steamed Richard up. Right after races Richard
would act like maybe he'd made a mistake or maybe there wasn't much to what had
happened, but by the next week he'd be angry and making a lot of it.
It all came to a
head when a story in the
Los Angeles Times
steamed things up. A writer had
asked me for the inside information on "the feud," in confidence. I
told him my side, as you would to a friend. To my surprise it came out in the
Well, facts are
facts and you know everybody's got a little history that's unpleasant. But
Richard felt enough was enough. I kind of agreed with him when he stood up in
the restaurant and said his piece. So that was that.
I'm going to say
this straight out: I never distrusted Richard. I felt some of the things he did
as he went along were wrong, but I never felt that he was going to go too far
or cross over the line to where it got touchy.