Petty Enterprises and Yanks Team Up on Racecar

ichard Petty is a legendary former stock-car driver from Level Cross, N.C. He laughs when he says there was a day he never would have dreamed of forming a business partnership with any Yankee, let alone the New York Yankees.

"I'm just a good old Southern boy," Petty, 63, said last weekend at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. "But when you're talking about the Yankees, those are people you want to associate with."

Petty, now a car owner, has done just that. On Sunday, at the Sirius at the Glen, a Nascar Winston Cup race at Watkins Glen, N.Y., one of Petty's drivers, Christian Fittipaldi, plans to drive a white Dodge with blue pinstripes and the Yankees' logo.

The Yankees, who are celebrating their 100th anniversary this season, are sponsoring the car for the race at Watkins Glen International Speedway only. The car will be on display today outside Yankee Stadium, and Petty will throw out the first pitch before the Yankees' home game against Seattle on Friday.

"I'm very honored to drive this car, no doubt about it," Fittipaldi said yesterday during a break in testing.

The car's number, 44, may seem as if it is in homage to Reggie Jackson, but Petty Enterprises has licenses on Nos. 43, 44 and 45. Richard Petty's No. 43 might be the most famous number in auto racing.

The deal came about because of a 10-year friendship between Petty and Leo Hindery Jr., the chairman of the YES Network. Hindery attended Petty's driving school in 1993 and took up racing as a serious pastime.

Hindery, 55, who still races a Porsche (No. 43) in the American Le Mans sports-car series, said in a telephone interview that he got in touch with Petty in the spring with the general idea of sponsoring the car for the Watkins Glen race.

"I was just a conduit," Hindery said.

Petty Enterprises is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Dodge, the manufacturer of Petty's cars, has a billboard at Yankee Stadium and is a Stadium sponsor. Hindery called it "just a sort of confluence of events."

Hindery said: "It just seemed like it would be a fun promotion. There are a real paucity of tracks in this part of the country, and it seemed like a good time to use the race because of its proximity to the Northeast."

Petty thought a car with the Yankees' logo would appeal to fans in the New York area who might not be otherwise interested in auto racing.

Baseball fans are not all that different from racing fans, Petty said. A baseball fan might become a racing fan.

"It's something different for them, and it's something different for us," Petty said. "Anytime we can get Winston Cup racing in front of people who don't know much about it, we'll go for it. That's what makes us expand."

Then there is the souvenir market. Petty and Hindery said that there has been enormous interest from fans in buying metal die-cast model cars with the Yankees' paint scheme.

"This could be one of the fastest-selling die-cast model cars ever," Hindery said.

But there is one if, and it is a big one.

Fittipaldi, 32, a Brazilian who is the nephew of the former Indianapolis 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, failed to make the field for the Brickyard 400. He cannot get one of seven provisional starting positions, because his team has used up its allotment.

That means Fittipaldi must post one of the 36 fastest times in qualifying on Friday.

He tested recently at Watkins Glen, and he said he was encouraged by the results. Now he is representing a team that has won 26 world championships.

"We're in a hard situation," Fittipaldi said. "It's not making my life or my team's life any easier."

Yankees teaming up with the King!!! Love it even if the driver sucks!