Petty hasn't changed views on women racers
CONCORD, N.C. - Richard Petty didn't think women belonged on the race track when Janet Guthrie became the first female driver to compete in the Coca-Cola 600 in 1976.
Thirty years later, his opinion hasn't changed.
"I just don't think it's a sport for women," Petty said in an interview with The Associated Press. "And so far, it's proved 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, a seven-time champion and NASCAR's all-time winningest driver, was one of the many people who gave Guthrie a cool reception when she came to Lowe's Motor Speedway for her first NASCAR event.
Guthrie had failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 when track officials persuaded her to come to North Carolina and try to make their race, then known as the World 600.
In her book, "Janet Guthrie A Life at Full Throttle," that was released last year, Guthrie recounted the icy reception she received from other drivers when she came to Lowe's for the '76 race.
"When I shook hands with Richard Petty I thought I'd get frostbite," Guthrie wrote. "Later, he would be quoted as saying of me: 'She's no lady. If she was she'd be at home. There's a lot of differences in being a lady and being a woman."
In the three decades that have passed, Petty has grown to appreciate what Guthrie accomplished. She competed for underfunded teams at a time when NASCAR did not have the programs that are currently in place to promote women and minorities.
"I've still not changed my mind about women racing," he said. "The deal with her ... she came in before you had any diversity deal. She come in just as herself and done a decent job. She come in the hard way, because no one really welcomed her in.
"She said, 'I'm here, I'm going to do it,' and she was able to get it done. You have to admire her for that."
Guthrie remains the only woman to compete in the Coca-Cola 600, and NASCAR has not had a female racer at the top level since Shawna Robinson ran seven events in 2002. The only woman even close to making it to the top is Erin Crocker, who will compete in Saturday night's Truck Series race in Ohio driving for Ray Evernham's development program.
So while Danica Patrick prepares to make her second start in the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, the NASCAR event will go off with an all-male field.
But NASCAR remains convinced that it will have a woman at the top level in no time.
"I think there is a woman driver out there who will break through," spokesman Jim Hunter said Thursday. "There will be the emergence of a contending woman driver. When? I have no idea.
"But I do know there are a lot of women drivers in the pipeline today, running sprint cars or whatever, who are wanting to make it to this level."
Kyle Petty, who currently runs the two-car operation built by his grandfather and father, said he would never rule out having a woman driver. He also pointed out that Petty Enterprises was one of the first teams in the garage to employ female engineers and mechanics.
But he said his father will never budge on his belief that women don't belong behind the wheel - even if Kyle Petty's daughter one day decides she wants to be a racer.
"His position is not going to change because that is who he is, that is part of who he is," Kyle Petty said. "That's just a fact of life. That's how he was raised, when he was raised, the era he was raised in. And that's just the way it is."
Associated Press Writer Tim Whitmire in Charlotte, N.C., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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