One of NASCAR most revered names was also a key player in the sport’s most embarrassing story of 2010.
Richard Petty Motorsports, the team fronted by NASCAR’s most successful driver in history, a man known universally as simply “The King,” limped through 2010 with barely enough resources to make it through the season.
In the process, RPM’s former majority owner, George Gillett, became the most disgraced and reviled man in the sport and some 135 workers lost their jobs — 75 at RPM and another 60 at Roush Fenway Racing and its affiliates, who supply chassis, bodies and engines to RPM.
As of Dec. 1, RPM has new ownership group, with Petty holding a minority stake and money coming from New York-based Medallion Financial Corp. and DGB Investments out of Silicon Valley.
Although terms of the deal were not disclosed, the new owners are rumored to have paid just $15 million for the team to settle Gillett’s $90 million bank loan to buy the team from founder Ray Evernham, a loan Gillett reportedly defaulted on.
It was a sad and tawdry story, especially in the closing weeks of the season. RPM already had lost Kasey Kahne to Red Bull and Kahne’s sponsor, Budweiser, which will move to Kevin Harvick’s Richard Childress Racing Chevy next season. And Paul Menard and his family sponsorship left RPM at the end of the season, also moving to RCR next season.
In 2010, RPM campaigned four cars, but will downsize to just two next season, the No. 43 Ford for AJ Allmendinger and the No. 9 for new teammate Marcos Ambrose, who is moving over to the team from JTG-Daugherty Racing.
Prior to the Martinsville Speedway race in October, team members were told that there might not be enough money to make it until the end of the season.
“There’s been a lot of speculation about a lot of things, there always has been in this sport, but what gives me confidence is that we’ve always had the ability to move forward,” said Robbie Loomis, RPM’s competition director during an impromptu press conference at Martinsville.
“We do our best today,” Loomis continued. “I was thinking riding up the road this morning with Dale (Inman, Petty’s cousin and former crew chief) and I said, ‘You can’t look too far out in the future because today is all that we really have,’ and many of you know that from being around this sport.”
After the race at Texas Motor Speedway, RPM’s cars were held in the infield until the team made a payment to the Roush Fenway organization. The cars were ultimately released three days after the race.
The team finished the season strong, with Aric Almirola and Allmendinger coming home fourth and fifth, respectively in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Less than two weeks later, the new ownership group was announced. How this latest deal pans out is anyone’s guess. Little more than two years ago, Petty sold the family’s original team, Petty Enterprises to a different investment firm, Boston Ventures. Although the new owners promised to pump resources into PE, the team closed its doors after the 2008 season because it had no sponsors.
Subsequently, Petty was brought on board as a front man and 4 percent owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports, which was renamed Richard Petty Motorsports. But Gillett’s ongoing financial woes brought the team to its knees, even after if switched to Ford prior to the start of the 2010 season.
One can only hope “The King” and his few remaining employees enjoy some success in 2011, or at the very least, some dignity after this year’s house of horrors. The burden of proof will play out soon, starting at Daytona in February.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.