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Richard Petty: Racing at Martinsville today is better than in his era

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 - Practice

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 03: NASCAR Hall of Famer and team owner Richard Petty looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3, 2015 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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NASCAR’s good old days weren’t always that good, especially at an iconic racetrack such as Martinsville Speedway, according to Hall of Famer Richard Petty.

Martinsville was one of “The King’s” most successful racetracks during his nearly 40-year racing career. In 67 starts at the half-mile bullring, Petty won 15 races (of the 200 wins in his illustrious career) and added 30 top-5 and 37 top-10 finishes (plus two poles).

Petty also won 15 races at the now-defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway.

With such an outstanding record at Martinsville, you’d think Petty would revel in what was back in the day.

If that’s the case, however, you’d be wrong.

“It used to be that we had all kind of brake problems and rear end problems and all that, and half of the cars fell out of the race,” Petty said Saturday at Martinsville. “Now they start the race, and if they don’t crash, nobody has a problem.

“The cars are so much better as far as being able to run a whole race. It used to be survival, but now they race each other. Even though we raced each other then, a lot of us didn’t survive.

“Now, they don’t worry that much about surviving. For the long part of the deal, it makes a better race out of it, because you’ve got more cars running at the end of the race racing against each other.”

Petty, who turns 79 in three months (July 2), still remembers almost every visit he made to Martinsville in the past. And his love affair with NASCAR’s oldest racetrack continues today.

“We always looked forward to this race,” Petty said. “We knew what it took to run 500 laps. Back in the day, you had drum brakes and when the race was over, there probably wasn’t but two or three cars on the track that had brakes.

“We would just idle around and run half the race and when everybody wore their brakes out, then we would start racing. That was our advantage up here, I think. It wasn’t that we ran that much better, but we could just race at the end of the race where a lot of people couldn’t.”

But while he reveled in all his visits to Victory Lane, Petty also remembers many of the less-than-ideal trips to Martinsville – especially early in his career when he raced his late father, Lee Petty.

“We had a couple of bad days up here,” he said. “I don’t remember if I spun out and my dad ran into me, or he spun out and I ran into him, but we wiped out two cars up here down in the third corner one day. That was probably the lowest point we’ve had here.”

Regardless if it was Richard or Lee that caused the incident, the end result didn’t favor the man who would eventually be nicknamed “The King.”

“It wasn’t good,” he said with a laugh. “But I was working on the cars, so I had to fix both of them – mine and his.”

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