So Richard Petty Motorsports lives to race another day -- or at least for another Sprint Cup season and hopefully many, many more.
It's good to have Richard Petty, NASCAR's all-time winningest driver and a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, remain actively involved in the sport. It's important.
But perhaps the larger message that should not be lost in Monday's announcement that Petty and two investors had completed purchase of all assets of the company bearing his name is that it's important for those owning race teams in the sport to be folks who know the sport and remain actively involved in the sport.
George Gillett and his nervous, jittery son Foster Gillett did not subscribe to that theory. After purchasing controlling interest from what previously was Evernham Motorsports and then later merging it with what little was left from what previously was known as Petty Enterprises and renaming it Richard Petty Motorsports, the Gilletts attempted to run their race team at arm's length. Well, more like at jet plane's length.
They just weren't around very much, and that was even before all their financial problems became so public. Yet they still tried to call many of the most important shots, much to the chagrin of racing veterans who knew better.
The writing was on the wall very early, according to Ray Evernham -- who initially sold them controlling interest in the race organization he founded with the idea that they were going to work together to build something bigger and better.
"The reason I took on a partner was that I couldn't compete on my own, and I could see that I needed more resources. And we were going to grow the thing," Evernham said. "Pretty much right off the bat, we had a smaller budget to work with -- and that didn't make me happy."
The merger era
Evernham recently told the story of his sale to the Gilletts in the form of a racing parable. Follow along, if you will ...
"It's like if I bought your car and said, 'I'm going to drive you back to North Carolina. But you're going to be the driver and you're going to drive all the way there. And when we get there, we're going to get a new car and do some different things,' " Evernham explained.
"And we started driving and I gave you some directions, and you said to me, 'Well, they're not going to work.' And I came back with, 'Well, you've got to go that way.' And you said, 'Look, I told you it's not going to work.' And then they said, 'Well, you're not driving anymore then. You're going to ride in the back.'
"And as you're riding in the back, pretty soon you realize we're not headed to North Carolina anymore. We're headed into the ocean. And you start screaming, 'I don't want to go into the ocean! You guys are going to drive right into the ocean!' And they were like, 'Shut up or we're going to lock you in the trunk.' And then when the car crashes into the ocean, someone unlocks you from the trunk."
So not only did the Gilletts try to run their team from long distance, but they frequently ignored the advice of those closest to the situation who had the most experience in the sport. They didn't listen to Evernham, who was supposed to stay on as a consultant. Petty, truthfully, was little more than a figurehead on the company that now bore his name -- and soon his great reputation began to take withering fire from critics and angry creditors alike.
To be fair to the Gilletts, they entered NASCAR at a time when there was a real merger craze going on. Michael Waltrip Racing took on investment whiz Rob Kauffman, who lives in London and has little to do with the day-to-day operation of MWR. Jack Roush aligned with the Fenway Sports Group led by John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox and other fine things, and became Roush Fenway Racing. Again, Henry and his associates left the racing decisions up to Roush.
Instead their pockets proved to be stuffed mostly with paper statements that said they had money and their heads filled with ideas of how to make more on paper -- with little regard to what kinds of real-cash investments it might take to improve performance where it mattered most to potential sponsors: on the track.
Who really knows if the new Richard Petty Motorsports can thrive in this era? Many seem to think they can as a scaled-back, two-car team with quality drivers in A.J. Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose.
But what are we really talking about here? What is their definition of thriving? Simply surviving?
The two race teams have solid sponsorship funding behind them for at least the time being and should have plenty of quality personnel to assist the aforementioned drivers. Of course, both Allmendinger and Ambrose, though highly competitive in stretches during their short careers, remain precisely 200 wins behind Petty in race victories. In other words, they have yet to win a single Cup Series race between them.
To expect the pair to suddenly emerge next season as legitimate threats to rise up and challenge the likes of five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson is unrealistic.
But at least RPM will be part of the weekly show, and that is almost as much of a relief as the fact that the shadowy Gillets no longer will be part of the NASCAR landscape with which they were so unfamiliar -- and for which they were so woefully unprepared.
"This is a unique sport. You can't just come in here and think you're smarter than everyone in the sport," Evernham said. "It's still a great sport. I think it's an investment, but it's something that has to be left up to the people who know where they're going. It's just like that car deal. Now it's not only if it gets messed up because they don't follow your directions, but it's also that if it breaks down, they don't know how to fix it."
For now, the best fix for Richard Petty Motorsports was simply to get it back into the hands of the man who lent his legendary name to the organization in the first place. At least now everyone will know who's really behind the wheel, and that there are no dark secrets locked away in the trunk.