I've been in a number of press conferences, but usually on the other side of the microphone. It's only fitting that my first press conference as a media representative is at my first Indy 500.
What I wasn't expecting that Richard Petty — The King — would be the focus of the conference. Serious coolness factor today.
Petty is now making a venture into open-wheel racing as an owner of an Indy car.
Petty owns the Window World car, #43, as part of the Richard Petty Motorsports/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team. D&R owns four entrants in this year's 500, and John Andretti, nephew of racing legend Mario Andretti, is his driver.
Petty said that even though he's been a stock car racer for 35 years, he was always fascinated by Indy Car racing.
"The thing that has always fascinated me about Indianapolis was the cars," said Petty. "We got stock cars, and I work on my own cars, but they're nothing like Indy cars."
He has been to qualifications for 10 or 12 years, as part of the STP Racing team, although he said this was his first time to be here for Pole Day. Last year was also his first time to ever attend a 500. He very nearly became a driver years ago though.
"I was invited by A.J. Foyt to come check it out. I took two laps around the car — not in the car, around it — and said I was going back," Petty said to laughs from the press corps. "Seriously though, I did sit in it, and looked at the pedals, and said 'How am I going to get my size 11s on these?' A.J. went to a locker, came back with a pair of size 7s, and said 'you've got to get your feet in these.'" And that was it."
But Indy Car ownership isn't a long-term venture for Richard Petty.
"This is just a one shot deal," said Petty. "But if we win, circumstances will change."
"Right now, we're going to do it this year, get the very best out of it, count the chips,and see what the future brings."
It's too bad, because Richard Petty brings a wealth of auto racing experience few people can ever hope to match. He brings some pretty strong opinions too.
"What's the difference between a racer and a driver?" one reporter asked.
"Racers want to win, but it's not pretty," said Petty. "All drivers here are good drivers, but they're not good racers. I don't know what makes a good racer. If I did, I'd put him in my car."
"Dude, I'm standing right here," said John Andretti. (Okay, he wasn't really.)
"But some of these drivers are just not winners, so I don't classify them as racers. Winners know what to do, how to act and react. Some of these drivers just don't."
Oh snap! The King has dubbed thee not worthy. It's like getting cut with a sharp knife -- you don't know you've been cut until much later. Makes me wonder who he's talking about.
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