It’s all about the Daytona 500 in the USA today, and in the background, two legends of the sport – Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson – are involved in an intriguing saga that transcends NASCAR and a fascinating tale of modern motorsport, worth telling.
Petty may still reign as NASCAR’s King, but with Jimmie Johnson wresting control of Petty’s race team, he is definitively not the boss.
Hall of Famer, Petty has essentially been stripped of power inside his former eponymous team that rapidly rebranded and rebuilt since November. Johnson and Petty are the only living seven-time NASCAR champions — and that appears to be where the similarities end inside Legacy Motor Club’s front office.
85-year-old Petty, who is officially Legacy’s ambassador, said Saturday he has bruised feelings and little say in the direction of the race team since Johnson bought into the ownership group: “It’s been strange to me.
“Most of the time, I ran the majority of the show. Jimmie brought all his people in. His way of running things and my way of running things are probably a little bit different. We probably agree on about 50% of what it really comes down to.”
Ahead of the Daytona 500, an unfiltered Petty said he was irked by Johnson’s rise in power. “Yes, it does” bother him, he said.
But Petty conceded it was “probably time for a change” because through several incarnations of his race team — the latest Petty GMS — his cars had never risen above the middle of the pack. GMS founder Maury Gallagher, chairman of Allegiant Air, purchased Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021 and Petty, whose 200 Cup wins as a driver are a record, served as the frontman.
Speaking to The Associated Press Johnson said he was “disappointed” that Petty publicly expressed his displeasure, adding: “Of course, we’ll have conversations. He’s not expressed them to me, for starters.
Johnson: Honestly, there are a lot of moving pieces to this
There are business decisions that are taking place between Mr. Gallagher and the Petty family before I ever arrived. Those are details that are just not my place to say.
“But a lot of what Richard is speaking to is based on business decisions that he and his family have made and they aren’t relative to my involvement.”
One of Johnson’s first decisions: Strip the Petty name that dates in NASCAR to 1949.
“When Jimmie came in, it was going to be hard to be Johnson Petty GMS,” Petty said. “Jimmie’s thinking further ahead with his crew and came up with a new name.”
Petty remains NASCAR’s most recognizable personality, wearing his feathered Charlie 1 Horse hats, dark glasses and cowboy boots. He’s never stopped signing autographs, making personal appearances or glad-handing sponsors, though even those responsibilities seem more uncertain under Johnson’s reign.
“They don’t take over the racing part, they take over the front office,” Petty said. “With sponsorships, appearances and all that stuff, Jimmie’s crowd is kind of controlling that. That’s something I never had to put up with, I guess.”
Petty did tip his hat to Johnson’s business acumen: Johnson’s connections with Gibson guitars and music industry relationships, including entertainment giant Live Nation, were instrumental in landing legendary rock band Guns N’ Roses on the hood of Erik Jones’ No. 43 Chevrolet.
“He’s basically going to wind up running the show in four or five years completely,” Petty said. “He’ll probably be the majority owner or the owner of our operation. They’re looking at things completely differently.”
Jimmie and Richard were never close
Even with their shared place in NASCAR history, Johnson and Petty were never close before they forged a business relationship. Johnson, though, said he’s always had respect for a driver so famous he inspired a character in “Cars.”
“He’s always been so kind and wonderful to me,” Johnson said. “He’s the last person I fist-pumped before I rolled off pit lane and won my seventh championship.”
Petty and Johnson are among nine drivers who won a NASCAR championship and Daytona 500 set to serve as grand marshals for the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Legacy M.C. also fields cars for Erik Jones and Noah Gragson.
“Jimmie’s very observant. He takes on everything,” Petty said. “Jimmie controls everything, basically. You’re making postcards and stuff, he has to approve it. He approves everything. He’s a pretty busy man right now.”
That includes racing. The 47-year-old Johnson returned to NASCAR after a two-year stint in IndyCar and proved he hadn’t lost anything in his first spins in NASCAR’s new car. He qualified on speed for the Daytona 500, flew with the Thunderbirds and topped the first speed chart at practice.
Although Johnson’s stellar racing career is winding down, it is apparent that he’s just getting started as team owner.