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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 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 newspaper.

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.

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