A Look Back at Richard Petty, Petty Enterprises, and The Firecracker 400

Jen PrestonSenior Analyst IJune 30, 2009

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 21: Kasey Kahne, driver of the #9 Budweiser Dodge, celebrates in victory lane with his team and owner Richard Petty after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway on June 21, 2009 in Sonoma, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“It was a thrill, a super big win anyway you look at it,” Richard Petty said. “With the President of the United States here, it would have been a super race for anybody to win.”

The fourth of July weekend was a storybook tale for NASCAR drivers and fans alike. Richard Petty was looking to make history. Among the 80,000 fans packed into the Daytona International Speedway was U.S. President Ronald Reagan. What driver didn't want to win in front of the President? 

Eight years before his retirement in 1992; before his 1,184 start, 555 top five and 712 top-ten career came to an end, Richard Petty out dueled Cale Yarborough to collect not only his 10th Daytona victory, but his 200th and final career win.

“I’ve been real fortunate,” Petty says of that win. “That was one of the most magical days in Richard Petty’s life and in racing. I think that everybody from [President] Reagan on gained on that deal. I think Reagan maybe got a few more votes because he was running for president, but July the Fourth, a picnic, the whole deal, it couldn’t have been a better script to come out on your side.

“I think it was really a super deal for racing because the president was there. He was the cake, and when I won the 200th that was the icing.”

From 1985 on, Petty would collect 15 top-fives and 45 top-tens. But he would never win again, and he would never win another championship.

Petty Enterprises had more championships, 10, and more wins, 268, than any other NASCAR team. It was founded in 1949 by Lee Petty; it had drivers like Buddy Baker, Ralph Earnhardt, Greg Biffle and Bobby Labonte among the 45 to occupy a Petty seat. Four generations of Petty's also drove for the team; Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam.  

But on December 31, 2008, Petty Enterprises ceased to exist. The team merged with what was then Gillett Evernham Motorsports, closed the doors to their own shop, and moved into GEM.

Son Kyle was "crushed" by the merger.

Things, though, may be looking up for the team, now named Richard Petty Motorsports. Three weeks ago, Kasey Kahne put a Petty car in Victory Lane for the first time since April of 1999 with his win at Infineon Raceway. This past week in New Hampshire, Kahne and Reed Sorenson, who had dominated in practice sessions throughout the weekend, both came home with top twenty finishes.  

Kahne is also just three points out of making the Chase to the NASCAR Sprint Cup, with nine races remaining until the cut off.

RPM returns this weekend to Daytona, where in the season opener all RPM drivers finished in the top fifteen, and three of them (Allmendinger, Sadler and Sorenson) finished in the top ten.

A win for RPM, on the fourth of July, and on the anniversary of The King's 200th career victory would be simply...magical.

Here's a look back at the 1984 Firecracker 400:

  • Richard Petty obviously won his 200th win in the event. It would be the last of his career. The drivers for his team now at the time were nine (Elliot Sadler), four (Kahne), three (A.J. Allmendinger) and Reed Sorenson wasn't born until two years later.
  • The race ended under caution when, with four laps remaining, the No. 01 of Dough Heveron flipped into the infield.
  • Thirteen drivers failed to finish the event, and only six finished on the lead lap.
  • Benny and Phil Parsons were the only pair of brothers in the race. They finished fifth and 13th, respectively. Richard and Kyle Petty, who both led laps during the race, were the only father and son to compete.
  • Ken Ragan, NASCAR Sprint Cup driver David Ragan's father, finished 26th.
  • 26 Chevrolets, six Pontiacs, six Fords, two Buicks, one Chrysler and one Oldsmobile made up the 42 car field.
  • Fourteen states and one foreign country (Canada) were represented. Ten drivers were from North Carolina.
  • The '84 Firecracker 400 had eight different leaders. Cale Yarborough, who finished third, led the most laps (79).

Thanks to Scene Daily, The Ledger, Racing Reference, Toledo Blade, SPEED TV and FOX Sports for the information, quotes and stats used in this article.