Back in my
daddy's racing days—Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500 and was NASCAR champ
three times—the drivers were more important than the cars: a good driver,
sometimes, could win in a bad car. But now we have good cars and good tracks
and the cars are more important. I can walk down the line before the start of
any race, even Daytona, where there are 42 starters, and I can eliminate over
half of the field because neither the cars nor the drivers are good enough. I
can cross off another third simply because the cars aren't good enough. So that
leaves only six or eight cars and drivers for me to worry about in a race and,
depending on the track and what I've seen in qualifying, only three or four I
have any real concern about. Unless they all break down, there is no way an
outsider is going to sneak in. He can't even stay close.
Now that's all
right. How many good teams have you got in football? Or basketball? Or
baseball? If you got six or eight that can win it all, you got a lot. It's no
different in stock-car racing. One thing, though, there's less room at the top
because the drivers don't quit so fast—I'm 39 and so is Bobby Allison, Buddy
Baker is 36, Cale Yarborough is 37 and David Pearson is 42. So most of the best
drivers today are the same guys I've been racing for six or eight years.
I won't say I'm
the best driver today, but I'll say that I'm as good a driver as there is in
stock cars. I think David Pearson is a better pure driver than I am, probably
the best ever, but I'm as good a racer because I work better within a team and
put the combination of driver and car and crew together. That's what produces
The fact is, I
think I have more confidence or desire than anyone. Most drivers are beat
before they begin; they think they're going to lose, so they're going to lose.
Some of them may think they can win, but they don't expect to win. I know I'm
not going to win every race, but I expect to win going into every race. When I
put the hammer down, some of those drivers just scatter. They think, "Uh,
oh, here comes No. 43." They've been waiting for my car to come along, and
when it does they get out of there.
In contrast, I
think David Pearson wants to beat me so bad that he doesn't drive the same
against me as he does against the others, and it takes something away from him.
When he's in a position to win, he's the toughest driver I've ever had to beat.
He doesn't always drive hard, but he drives smart. And he's strong, so he'll
last. A lot of drivers may be tough for 20 laps or 50 miles, but David is one
of the few you have to figure will still be tough after 200 laps or 500 miles.
That matters as much as anything. He always knows what he has to do and when to
do it and how to do it. He can handle a car so smooth it's a pleasure to
A.J. Foyt is the
only driver I put on a par with Pearson on pure skill. Foyt can do anything any
man ever could do with a car. He's as strong as any driver ever, yet he's got a
light touch and he knows how to win races. If A.J. ran stock cars all the time
instead of concentrating on Indy cars, I'm sure he'd be close to my record.
But I don't think
he'd be better, for two reasons. One, he feels he has to do it all himself. He
builds and tunes his own Indy cars, and even though someone else builds and
tunes his stock cars, he's always putting his finger in the pie. A.J. figures
he can only count on A.J. I don't depend just on Richard Petty; I depend on
Petty Enterprises. My daddy runs the team—not as much as he used to maybe, but
when he's there he's the boss. My engine builder is my brother Maurice, and my
crew chief is my cousin Dale Inman. I'm a team man and in the long run a team
man will win more than an individualist.
The second reason
is that Foyt—and Pearson, too—want to win too much. By that I mean they lose
some races because they won't settle for second. A lot of times when I don't
figure to finish first I'll still run hard for second or third, and sometimes
I'll end up first because the car, or a couple of cars, in front of me will
break down. Foyt and Pearson don't pick up many scraps like that.
From what I hear,
Foyt was a great dirt driver. As strong as he is, I guess he really could
wrestle his cars around. But he never drove stock cars on dirt against me.
David did and he was sort of special on those old tracks, the best I ever saw.
But we don't drive on the dirt much anymore. And David doesn't drive short
tracks much anymore. He's just been driving the superspeedways the last few
pluses and some minuses to racing that way. David and his team, the Wood
brothers, get more time to prepare for the big races and they're fresher when
they get to them. On the other hand, David may not be as sharp as I am just
because he lays off so much. The Petty team races once a week, and I think it
keeps me and my crew sharp. Plus, I get to know the other drivers better.