Editor’s Note: With seven NASCAR Cup Series and 200 victories, Richard Petty is “The King” of stock car racing. But he also had his low points. One came at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in March 1989. Ron Lemasters Jr. told the story in the pages of National Speed Sport News.
RICHMOND, Va. — In the dusky twilight that surrounded the garage area Saturday evening at Richmond lnt’l Raceway, Richard Petty came down the steps of the NASCAR Winston Cup trailer amid a crowd of media representatives and said, “I’m going home, guys.”
After 513 consecutive Winston Cup starts spanning 18 years of his 31 on track, the familiar blue and red No. 43 would not be on the starting grid for the Pontiac Excitement 400.
It is ironic, perhaps, that Petty’s consecutive race streak began at Richmond, back in November of 1971 when it was a dusty half-mile dirt oval. The last time Petty was not in the starting field for a Winston Cup race was Nov. 7, 1971, when a dispute over appearance money with the promoter in Macon, Ga., saw the familiar Petty Enterprises car loaded back in its trailer.
Perhaps even more ironic is the fact that Petty came to Richmond the following weekend to win the $25,000 Capital City 500 by more than a lap over Bobby Allison. After qualifying Saturday, Allison’s son Davey took one of the provisional starting spots that would have allowed King Richard to compete by virtue of a higher 1988 car owner point total. Dave Marcis took Sunday’s other provisional spot by virtue of his 20th in 1988 car owner points to Petty’s 27th.
The 51-year-old Petty, a seven-time NASCAR champion and its all-time leading winner, qualified his STP Pontiac at 116.535 mph, too slow to make the 34-car field. Then, in practice between the first and second rounds of qualifying, Petty spun his primary car into the third turn wall.
“I hit the wall going backwards,” Petty said. “I was going too fast for conditions. It messed the back end of the car up pretty good, so we’re going to a backup car.”
Petty, STP public relations men Ed Carroll and Jim Martin huddled with NASCAR officials throughout the early evening Saturday to no avail. Rodney Combs offered Petty the seat in his A.A.G. Inc. Buick for the race, but apparently Petty turned it down.
Martin told members of the media Saturday night that Petty was probably going to go back home.
“I guess we just didn’t go fast enough to make the race,” Petty said, trying to summon one of his famous grins. “The 43 car is going to the house.”
Petty left the NASCAR trailer and went back to his garage, where his crew was busy trying to prepare the backup car and told them, “Put everything on the trailer, we’re going home.”
Kyle Petty, Richard’s son, was also too slow to make the race, marking the first time since March 7, 1965 that a Petty (either grandfather Lee, Richard or Kyle) has not been in a NASCAR Premier Series race.