(Photo Credit: Twitter.com/TheRichardPetty)
By Logan Morris
On January 11th, when Jimmie Johnson appeared on The Today Show, the world of NASCAR saw the official end of an era. Johnson announced that Petty GMS Motorsports would rebrand and become Legacy Motor Club. The name change itself didn’t come as a significant surprise. Team owner Maury Gallagher suggested a name change was possible back in November, when it was announced that Johnson had bought an ownership stake in the team.
The name wasn’t the only thing to change. In December 2021, when Gallagher bought a controlling interest in what was then Richard Petty Motorsports, Richard Petty was given the title of “Chairman of the Board.” With the shift to Legacy Motor Club, Petty’s title has been changed to “Team Ambassador.”
The rebranding is confirmation that Jimmie Johnson’s role in the organization will be significant, and that he’s looking to have his fingerprints on the team and sport as a whole for years to come. The prospect of that excites countless fans. However, there’s a section of fans that are less than pleased with the name change and the resulting fallout. Many of NASCAR’s long-time fans view these changes as disrespectful to Richard Petty and his legacy.
2023 will mark the first time that a team bearing the Petty name doesn’t exist in NASCAR history. To some, it’s a concept that once seemed inconceivable. The Petty name has been synonymous with NASCAR since its inception. Lee Petty was a three-time Cup champion, winning his first Cup Championship in 1954. He won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. He would retire as the all-time wins leader with 54.
The Petty legacy of course continued with his son Richard. There’s not much to say about the man known as “The King” that hasn’t already been said. 200 wins, 7 championships. He is without question the most decorated driver in NASCAR history. He’s been a constant figure in the sport since working on his father’s cars in the 50s. Kyle Petty would also continue that legacy as well with 8 wins of his own in a driving career that began in 1979 and ended in 2008. He continues to be part of the sport today broadcasting for NBC.
Kyle’s son, Adam, felt destined to be the one to carry the Petty family legacy into the future, but sadly that wasn’t to be. Adam Petty was tragically killed in a crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The Petty name goes even further than that. Maurice Petty also drove for Petty Enterprises in the 60s, but he’s better known as the man who built the motors that would crown Richard Petty “The King.”
It was understandably jarring for a lot of people who are familiar with the Petty family history. There’s a narrative out there that Jimmie Johnson is being propped up while Richard Petty is being pushed aside and shown the door. Quite simply, that’s jumping to a conclusion that isn’t the case. While it’s true that Jimmie Johnson will, like Richard Petty, be one of the faces of the organization, that doesn’t mean Petty is going away.
We also have to remember that Petty will be 86 in July. At this stage, there are likely some things that Johnson is better equipped to handle. While the Petty family history is rich and should always be remembered, we have to be honest about the fact that for the better part of the last 3 decades, the Petty name has struggled to garner enough interest from sponsors to fully fund Richard Petty’s race team.
That isn’t to say there haven’t been bright spots in that period, there certainly have been. But time and time again, Petty and his various business partners have had to scrape enough sponsorship together to keep his iconic No. 43 and other cars on the track. Now that there’s a completely new name, and with Jimmie Johnson playing a hands-on role in the organization, perhaps some sponsors that otherwise wouldn’t have been interested could be.
Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty being on the same team means that there is an incredible legacy that comes with this team, pardon the pun. The reality is, Johnson’s resume is worthy of being acknowledged as well, before you even factor in that he now owns a portion of the team. The word Legacy pays tribute to both Johnson and Petty - not one or the other.
Seeing something so synonymous and iconic within the sport undergo such a major change is understandably difficult to embrace for some. But if Richard Petty himself is okay with it, then what more does anyone need to accept and support this change? After all, he is the living embodiment of that history and that iconic name. As long as he’s still a part of the team that history lives on.
You can’t look at the 43 (and to a lesser extent the 42) and not think of Richard Petty. No disrespect to Erik Jones or any other former driver of the 43, but Petty is the 43. Whoever is behind the wheel of the 43 will always be in his indescribably large shadow. Both Maury Gallagher and Jimmie Johnson understand this. It’s impossible to separate 43 from Petty.
Look no further than Jones’s win last season at Darlington. The narrative and topic of conversation were that Richard Petty’s No. 43 was finally back in victory lane. It’s a very safe assumption that if any of the three Legacy Motor Club cars find victory lane again this season, Richard Petty's continued involvement with the team will be a leading part of the conversation. Sure, perhaps Team Ambassador doesn’t feel like a title or role worthy of Petty’s influence and legacy, but in recent years there’s been a growing belief that he’s been little more than just that. However, even with that being his official role and title there’s no reason not to believe he won’t have a seat at the table and be able to give his input. The respect he commands guarantees that.
If and when Legacy Motor Club finds victory lane, the team name won’t matter. This very well could be the best way to ensure Petty spends his final years being involved with a very competitive race team. He deserves that. Petty will still be at the track and in the garage, I’m sure. He’ll be there for the major sponsorship announcements as always. To put it bluntly, he’s still Richard Petty.
Legacy Motor Club will absolutely take some getting used to. But, one thing that absolutely will not change this season is the fact that when you see a Legacy Motor Club car and that iconic Petty font, you will think of Richard Petty. Especially when you see the No. 43. People who never saw him race, let alone win, look at the 43 and they think of him. He is bigger than any team name or scheme on a car. He transcends all of that.
The statement Petty released at the time of the announcement perfectly sums it up “When I see the No. 42 & 43 cars, no matter who the driver was, is currently, or could be in the future, I want our fans to remember the Petty history that comes with them, and that history will continue to be made with LEGACY M.C."
Richard Petty is absolutely right. This isn’t the end of that incredible history, this is simply the continuation of it. For better or worse, everything changes. But one thing that will likely never change is the legacy we are reminded of when we see those two cars. “The King’s” legacy lives on and this move proves that it always will.
They say the more things change the more things stay the same. I think it’s safe to say that drivers, team names, and official titles may change. But, the No. 43’s legacy will never change, and that is why we shouldn’t dismiss Legacy Motor Club as the end of the Petty legacy. It’s only the next chapter in the incredible book that is Richard Petty’s NASCAR career. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Jimmie Johnson’s No. 84 adds to the story?