Kyle Petty on why he feels NASCAR will never be mainstream, how his son’s death affected the sport, and his unique way of remembering song lyrics.

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The CharlotteFive Podcast team decided we wanted to pick up our guitars and get behind the steering wheel, so we brought on former NASCAR driver, current NBC NASCAR analyst, and musician, Kyle Petty. Below are some small excerpts of what was talked about on the podcast with this member of NASCAR royalty. For the full interview and some videos of his recent performance at Puckett’s Farm Equipment, click right below to listen and watch.

I read a Charlotte Observer article from a couple years back, and you said “I would ride my motorcycle and I would write lyrics on my tank.” Are you still doing that to this day?

“When you’re riding a motorcycle and you have a sharpie, and a song idea or a lyric pops into your head and you get a tune and you start singing it inside your helmet to all the cows that you’re passing, and you just come up with the words and write it down on your motorcycle on the gas tank. When you get to a gas stop, [you] fill up with gas, you write the words down that were on the gas tank and put them in a trusty little moleskine, then you take a gas rag and wipe all the lyrics off of your gas tank. Guess what? It’s then a clean sheet of paper to go again.”

Any thought to going down the ‘music as a career’ road?

“It was just fun. I used to tell people at the time, Dale [Earnhardt] Sr. and guys like that, they were hunters. They’d get up at 4:30 in the morning and go sit in a deer stand. I see no enjoyment in that, but that was their hobby. Darrel [Waltrip] and those guys, they were golfers. They liked to go play golf for four or five hours. I saw no pleasure in that. But playing guitar, writing music, and being around musicians – I saw a lot of pleasure in that, so it was like a hobby. Just like they had their escape from racing – that was mine.”

Right after your son’s [Adam] death there were a lot of safety changes to the sport, would his death have happened today?

“At the same time, you had Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin Jr, Adam, and then Dale [Earnhardt] Sr. Within a short period of time we lost three or four drivers, and we hadn’t lost any drivers in the sport in a number of years. I believe that the way the sports evolved, at that period of time from late ’97-’98 to 2000-2001, with so many accidents and so many deaths, I think it was a catalyst to wake people up and say we’ve got to fix this. We’re losing young drivers, in Adam and Kenny Irwin. We’re losing established stars, in Dale Earnhardt Sr. I think it woke everybody up and everybody focused on safety, from safer barriers to better seats to helmet design to interior design of the cars.”

I never forget his birthday…

A post shared by Kyle Petty (@kylepetty) on

Both attendance and ratings for NASCAR are down. Does NASCAR need to take a hard look at itself?

“Everything is down because of that mobile device in your hand. I can be here at Puckett’s  and watch a race going on over at Charlotte Motor Speedway, so why am I going to Charlotte Motor Speedway? How do we keep up with the attention span? Nobody is going to sit through a four to five hour long race anymore. Sorry, it’s just not going to happen. We have the Coca Cola 600, well will it always be the Coca Cola 600? Will it be the Coca Cola 60 minutes? How will we change the racing and what is done on the racetrack? I think we went a long way this year when they changed the sport with stage racing. That totally changed how fans looked at the sport.”

What would you say to the people that have never seen a NASCAR race to convince them this is the sport to watch? 

“I tell people this all the time, I can’t convince you. I always compare our sport to this, not to baseball, not to basketball, not to football, but to hockey. When you go to a hockey game, you like it or you don’t. If you don’t, you’re not going to come back. There’s no such thing as a casual hockey fan. Nobody is just flipping their channel and saying ‘oh, there’s a period left in this hockey game. I think I’ll watch this last period’. Nobody flips the channel and says ’60 laps left. I’m going to watch the last part of this race’. People that watching racing and watch hockey, they know what time it starts. They’re fans, and they’ve bought into that idea. All I ask, ever, is just give it a try. No matter how much they want to tell you, it’s not a mainstream sport. It’s never going to be a mainstream sport.”

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The CharlotteFive Podcast — presented by The Charlotte Observer and powered by OrthoCarolina — is a weekly podcast that aims to get you Charlotte Smart, Fast with fun, interesting and useful news about the city. It’s co-hosted by Sean Clark-Weis and Sallie Funderburk and is a production of the Charlotte Observer and 2WAVES Media.

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Photos/Videos: Sean Clark-Weis, Kyle Petty

3 COMMENTS

  1. Yes, stage racing changed things. Another of the horrible gimmicks France has decided on to make a lot of people turn away. I just look online at the results. Used to watch or listen the entire race.

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