Throughout NASCAR’s 71-year history, most drivers have been hired by team owners to wheel their cars, leaving the business side of the operation to someone else. A few other drivers have seen the inner workings of a race team and believed they could do it better.

Some driver-owner scenarios have been very successful.

Many of the sport’s early stars took on the role of driver-owner through necessity, filling starting lineups while they raced as independents without major corporate funding.

The most successful driver-owners in NASCAR are the Pettys, father Lee and sons Richard and Maurice. From 1949 through 2008, they built an incredible dynasty with Petty Enterprises in Level Cross, N.C.

Lee Petty began his driving career in 1949 using his own Oldsmobiles and Plymouths. He recorded 54 wins and premier series championships in 1954, ’58 and ’59. In 1964, he turned his attention to team ownership. Upon full retirement in the early 1970s, Lee Petty passed the business on to his sons.

Richard Petty collected 200 victories and seven championships. He also has seven Daytona 500 victories to his credit as part of Petty Enterprises’ 268 wins in 2,817 starts.

Lee Petty made his living through racing, eventually leading to his son Richard Petty's incredible NASCAR career. (NASCAR Photo)
Lee Petty made his living through racing, eventually leading to his son Richard Petty’s incredible NASCAR career. (NASCAR Photo)

Lee Petty was one of the first to solely make his living through stock car racing, relying on used parts to keep racing costs to a minimum.

“Daddy didn’t even start driving until he was 35 years old,” Richard Petty said. “He did some other things before that to support the family but decided on driving race cars to make a living. Racing is just what he did and what we did. That was just a way of life for the Pettys and still is. Other than some farming, we didn’t really do anything but race. The whole deal started out of an old shed we had behind the house.”

Richard Childress began his driving career at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston Salem, N.C., before making his NASCAR debut in 1969. He entered 285 Cup Series races with no wins but logged 76 top-10 finishes over 12 seasons.

After starting 20 Cup Series races in 1981, Childress stepped away from the driver’s seat.

“In the late 1970s, I could see the future coming with (team owners) Warner Hodgdon, Rod Osterland, M.C. Anderson and Harry Ranier putting a great deal of money into it,” Childress said. “I was used to top-10 finishes but all the sudden I found myself running 12th or 15th and it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. I knew if I wanted to stay in the sport, I had to find a driver to continue doing it. So I got out of the car and put (Dale) Earnhardt in it for 10 races.”

Earnhardt scored 67 of his 76 Cup Series victories driving for Childress, and he won six of his seven championships with Richard Childress Racing.

Bobby Allison, Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough are among the drivers to earn Cup Series victories in cars they also owned.

Allison won his first three races in NASCAR’s premier series in 1966 while running his own Chevy Chevelle. After driving for team owners such as Cotton Owens, Bondy Long, Holman Moody and Junior Johnson, Allison again fielded Chevrolets in 1973 and ’74.

With only two wins in Roger Penske’s AMC Matadors in 1975 and no wins in Mercurys in ’76, Allison returned to team ownership in 1977 with a Matador.

Allison worked as a hired driver from 1978 through June 1988 for team owners Bud Moore, Harry Ranier and the Stavola brothers. He suffered career-ending injuries while driving for the Stavola brothers at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway on June 19, 1988.

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