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Equity firm takes over Petty Enterprises

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

CONCORD, N.C. —  One of NASCAR's most storied race teams gave up majority control Wednesday when a private equity firm took over Petty Enterprises.

Although Richard Petty says he'll still have a large day-to-day role with the team his family has run since 1949, Boston Ventures now maintains control of the 60-year-old operation and the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Barry Baker, managing director of Boston Ventures, becomes Petty's new chairman, and David Zucker takes over as CEO. Zucker most recently ran Midway Games, a Chicago-based producer of video games. Neither side would reveal the percentage of the organization that Boston Ventures now controls.

"Everything has changed so much from where we first started, and as time progressed, it really got away from us," Petty said of the nearly 10 years of struggles the team has experienced.

"We just got behind and we tried to do it from the automotive deal, from the inside out. We finally set down and said, `OK, guys, if we're going to play this game, we've got to get in the game.' The only way we could get in the game was to get new moneys coming in."

The new partnership allowed the organization to re-sign former series champion Bobby Labonte, who signed a four-year contract extension to continue driving the famed No. 43 Dodge.

"With Boston Ventures coming on board, it definitely was the thing that swayed me to stay," Labonte said. "They are bringing the things we need as a race team to move forward."

The Petty organization has been stuck in neutral for close to two decades, falling far behind the success it achieved when "The King" won seven championships and 200 victories.

While the team has been progressive in attempting to turn things around _ Labonte signed in 2006, the team smartly recognized it had to relocate from its longtime home in Level Cross to Mooresville to be closer to the NASCAR hub, and after lagging behind in testing and technology, Petty finally formed a dedicated test team this season _ it still lacked the financial backing to move forward.

Robbie Loomis, executive vice president at Petty Enterprises, recognized the need to bring in an outside investor and convinced Petty to look around. They finally settled on Boston Ventures, which is heavily involved in media and entertainment interests with investments in Motown Records, Six Flags Entertainment and American Media Inc., among others.

The partnership comes amid a wave of outside investors joining NASCAR. Jack Roush sold a portion of his race team to the Fenway Sports Group and Ray Evernham partnered with Canadian businessman George Gillett Jr.

But NASCAR chairman Brian France insisted small teams don't need investors to remain competitive in racing.

"They don't have to," France said. "They can and they have, and it's attractive for different investment groups. But the jury is still out from the actual benefits. It's not an either-or, but it's an attractive sport to do business in."

Boston Ventures has its work cut out in turning Petty Enterprises around.

Although the team has 268 career victories, 200 were by Richard Petty, who won his last race in 1984 and retired as a driver in 1992.

Petty Enterprises' last victory came with John Andretti in 1999, and the team is now plagued with sponsorship problems. The No. 45 car that Kyle Petty drives has only partial sponsorship, and General Mills announced earlier this year that it's leaving the No. 43 car at the end of the season.

"We are not that arrogant to think this can happen overnight," said Andy Davis, managing director of Boston Ventures. "But it is our goal to bring back Petty Enterprises to its former glory."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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