Richard Petty Speaks Out About 2021 Season Changes: ‘Dirt Racing Is Not Professional’

by Josh Lanier

Richard Petty isn’t happy about NASCAR‘s upcoming Spring Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The legendary driver said recently that the upcoming dirt track race is “not professional” and was taking the sport “backward.”

NASCAR announced last week that the Cup Series would include a dirt track race next season. It’s the first such race for the series in more than 50 years. But while some current drivers are excited to take their cars onto the dirt, Richard Petty thinks they should be wary.

“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,” Petty told Autoweek. “Years and years to get away from that stigma (that racing wasn’t professional). 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.”

Petty reminisces on winning NASCAR’s last race on dirt

Petty not only drove in the last NASCAR race on dirt, but he also won it. That race took place in 1970 in Raleigh, N.C. at the North Carolina Fairgrounds. He says he doesn’t remember that much about the race, but he recalls it wasn’t a good track.

“In that one, there were big holes in the track and it was rough and you had to drive around those holes,” he said. “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.”

Petty admits, however, that there are advantages to driving on dirt rather than asphalt. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun, he said. In an interview with NASCAR in 2013, Petty explained the difference.

“I always felt the driver could make up so much more then. It was so much fun,” he said about racing on dirt tracks. “On asphalt, they always got one groove, maybe around the middle, maybe outside. But on dirt, you could go anywhere you needed to run fast. You could run outside, in the middle, up against the banking. It was more of a challenge. The fun deal was (racing on) dirt.”

Current NASCAR drivers seem split over the decision to add the dirt track race.

Changes upcoming next season

In addition to the dirt track race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 28., NASCAR added three road course events to the 2021 schedule, NBC reported. Those new races are:

  • May 23 at Circuit of the Americas
  • July 4 at Road America
  • Aug. 15 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course

The other points races on road courses in 2021 will be at Sonoma, Watkins Glen, and the Charlotte Roval.