Maurice Petty (he pronounces it "Morris," but most people call him Chief) usually wears a mellow half-smile, plus a big brown beard and a tweed cap. He looks like a prosperous chef, and, in a way, he is. His kitchen is—literally—the engine compartment of Richard's race car, where he usually works sitting in an empty front wheel well, using the wheel spindle as a seat; the 500-hp engine before him might be a Thanksgiving turkey on a table. He wields a screwdriver and wrench like a knife and fork. A cylinder head is lifted off like a slice of white meat, a piston and connecting rod are disjointed like a drumstick.
Said Petty, "Our team has a lot more depth than Waltrip's, but sometimes that ain't enough. If you compare talents, we'd be a shoo-in, but it don't always work that way."
Waltrip's crew lacks the laurels and experience and family ties of Petty's, but it has proved itself among the best by its determination. All season long, in order to keep Waltrip in races and in the point lead, it did things a little out of the ordinary in NASCAR racing. It changed engines in midrace no fewer than four times, most recently in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville, Va., where it replaced a blown engine with a fresh one in 11 minutes and 26 seconds. The extra effort enabled Waltrip to finish that race in 11th position and earn 135 points. At Dover Waltrip blew a tire and hit the wall; his Monte Carlo was smashed so badly it took two wreckers, one hooked to each side of the car, to yank the chassis back into shape. Waltrip finished that race, too.
Waltrip and Parrott kept their cool. "I've sorted through the bad help and prima donnas," Waltrip says. "I've got a very stable bunch of guys now.
"Listen, I'm the leader of our team, and when there's a mistake made, I made it. However I want that race car prepared is how we do it, so if something goes wrong, 99% of the time it's my fault."
"I wasn't on the team the years he was so bad and so mean," says Parrott, "but I understand him. He demands perfection, which is fine with us. If something goes wrong, he's right in there hustling with us to fix it. There's not a driver in this garage I'd rather work for than Darrell Waltrip."
To further refute his reputation for being impossible to wrench for, two of Waltrip's former crew chiefs, Jake Elder and David Ifft, also speak highly of him. But, as Ifft said a few days before Ontario, "It's like if me and two other guys was gonna go over behind them garages and have a brawl, and we was fightin' three brothers, who do you think would win? You can't beat a family."
Not the Petty family last Sunday, anyway. Richard's strategy was to try to win at Ontario and forget Waltrip even existed. It turned out to be not very difficult for him to forget his rival, and easy for the fans, as well. Petty took off charging, driving the high groove like the King they knew so well, so close to the wall his Chevy smacked it two or three times. Meanwhile, Waltrip, in avoiding one kind of trouble—a car spinning ahead of him—ran into another kind. After flat-spotting his tires in dodging the other car, he pitted for fresh rubber and thus lost a lap that he was never able to regain. Later, Waltrip's crew contended they lost the lap because the pace car had held the Kid up. NASCAR officials contended that the alleged lost time was just a mental error. Said Director of Competition Bill Gazaway, "They weren't paying attention to where the leader was at all." However, showing class and good sportsmanship, Waltrip's crew didn't lodge an official protest; they conceded that Petty was faster on this day.
With 10 laps left, the King was on the rear bumper of the leader, Yarborough. Three other drivers were close behind 43—Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons and Buddy Baker. After a frantic final 25 miles, it was Parsons the winner by .42 second over Allison. Petty was at the end of the row in fifth place, only .78 second behind Parsons. Waltrip finished eighth. "It was the kind of deal where, when they throwed the green flag, I run just as hard as I could all day," said Petty. That was enough to edge out Waltrip, 4,830 points to 4,819, for his seventh—and most satisfying—championship.