Richard Petty, one of NASCAR’s most iconic drivers and the man who won the sport’s last dirt race at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, isn’t exactly pleased with this weekend’s event. Tons of pounds of dirt have been trucked into Bristol Motor Speedway and dumped onto the normally asphalt track to give NASCAR its first dirt race in five decades. But to Petty, that’s a bad idea.
“I have to be careful here,” Petty told Autoweek back in October, “because there’s some politics involved, and I don’t want to annihilate NASCAR on this. I guess I’m looking at it from an old-time deal because we spent years and years and years trying to become a professional sport. Years and years to get away from that stigma. But dirt-track racing is not professional, so we’re going backward. It would be like taking a professional football team and going back to play at a high school field.”
Those are some pretty strong words, but they aren’t the only ones Petty had to offer on the subject:
I think it’ll be exciting at Bristol that day. It might be another gimmick. It might be what NASCAR needs to keep our base growing. But it won’t be anything like the dirt track we had at Raleigh. In that one, there were big holes in the track and it was rough and you had to drive around those holes. The dirt tracks today turn into asphalt tracks; once you race on ‘em a while they just turn into slick asphalt tracks. But cars will be going sideways in the corners, and that’s what people want to see.
In some regards, Petty has a point: the event at Bristol is going to be massively different from the old-timey dirt races, which will lend it some credibility. But a lot of folks have taken offense to the fact that Petty is categorizing dirt racing as a whole as unprofessional. You don’t need to look much further than the quote tweets on Autoweek’s article; many people have drawn attention to the fact that Petty was a star on dirt tracks, that there are several genuinely professional motorsport series that race on dirt.
In the wider context, it sounds like Petty is largely just critical of the dirt races of the past, which were frequently unmaintained and unpredictable. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he thinks the whole concept of Bristol is goofy.