Petty to Danica: 'This is not as easy as it looks'

November, 5, 2009
LAS VEGAS -- Richard Petty had signed about his 300th autograph at the SEMA Show on Wednesday when I informed him that Danica Patrick was close to a deal with JR Motorsports.

"To do what?" NASCAR's seven-time champion said.

I smiled and said, "To drive in the Nationwide Series."

Petty smiled back and replied, "Just being politically correct."

Another first for the King: being politically correct on the subject of women in NASCAR.

About 40 years ago Petty told a group of women from Queens College in Charlotte, N.C., that the pits at a NASCAR event "was no place for these girls."

In 2006, his opinion hadn't changed.

"I just don't think it's a sport for women," Petty told me at the time. "And so far, it's proven out. It's really not. It's good for them to come in. It gives us a lot of publicity, it gives them publicity.

"But as far as being a real true racer, making a living out of it, it's kind of tough."

Petty wasn't trying to be harsh then any more than he was trying to be harsh about IndyCar Series darling Patrick being close to finalizing a deal to drive in the Nationwide Series for JRM. He was just noting the obvious: that women have tried to make it in NASCAR's premier series many times before and failed.

His reasons are the same now that they have always been. Stock cars are heavy machines that are tough enough for 200-pound men to handle, much less for a 100-pound woman, even with power steering and all the other advanced technology.

"The deal is, this is not as easy as it looks," the Hall of Fame driver said. "And if you've had championship drivers come from that league that are struggling, then where does it leave her?"

Let's get this straight. Petty doesn't wish Patrick ill will because she is a woman. He understands more than most what Patrick would mean to the sport from a public-relations standpoint, particularly in tough economic times.

He simply doesn't believe, like many I've talked to, that Patrick can succeed in NASCAR.

But apparently she's going to try. Sources say the deal with JRM is close to done and that the goal is to put her in the ARCA event at Daytona International Speedway in February. If that goes well and officials approve, she'll make her Nationwide Series debut, then compete in another 11 or so races.

She'll have the best money can buy with Hendrick Motorsports equipment. She'll have a top sponsor with She likely will have her IndyCar number (7).

Will that be enough for her to successfully compete, to make her a candidate for the Sprint Cup Series when her three-year deal with Andretti Green Racing in the IndyCar series ends?

"I'm going to tell her good luck," said Petty, peering under the rim of his signature cowboy hat and again flashing his famous smile.

Politically correct -- you know what I mean.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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