"Family is the most important priority," said Petty. He said successful people have faith, are passionate about their work, have a plan for today and tomorrow, possess the skills to communicate well with employees and lead by example.
Petty has been a fixture on the NASCAR circuit for 20-plus years and currently drives the #45 Georgia-Pacific Dodge in the Nextel Cup Series. He has collected eight victories, eight poles and 51 top five finishes.
Money or trophy?
Petty went on to describe how his grandfather, Lee Petty, started the family business, Petty Enterprises, not because of a love of racing but as a means to "put food on the table. He didn't care about winning, just bringing home the money," said Petty.
In 1958, Kyle's father, Richard Petty, started racing. After a bad accident in 1961 that left Lee Petty hospitalized for eight months, the family business was turned over to Richard and his uncle to run. Richard loved driving race cars, not for the money but for the trophy - just the opposite of his father.
"It became a passion to win races and that's when our business took off," said Petty. During this time, Petty Enterprises raced 60 to 70 times a year. It was also during this time that manufacturers became involved in motorsports. According to Petty, this changed in the late 60s and early 70s when the manufacturers pulled out and the automotive aftermarket came onboard, with STP being Richard's sponsor.
By the mid-70s, Petty Enterprises was a single-car team and a small company with 14 employees. "My father won a lot in the 70s," said Petty. In the 80s, when television started covering races, the sport started to change, with manufacturers of consumer products becoming involved through sponsorships, which continues today. "You can't go to the supermarket without seeing us on something," said Petty.
Unfortunately, Petty Enterprises did not change to keep up with the growth of auto racing. "If you don't change with technology, you get left behind. We got left behind in the 80s and keep in mind that we had 10 championships in the first 50 years," said Petty.
In 1997, Kyle started his own team and by that time, his son Adam had become the first 4th generation driver in NASCAR history. "When my son started driving, we developed a plan. We needed partners," said Petty.
In 2000, the death of Adam while testing his Busch car in New Hamshire changed the dynamics of the family-run Petty Enterprises. "Family was always important to us, but after the accident, it became the only thing important to us," added Petty.
Petty Enterprises developed a long-term plan and has continued to reinvent itself. "We also identified that we were part of a bigger thing than riding around in circles," said Petty.
The business became more involved in the community and started The Victory Junction Gang Camp to honor Adam. The camp is designed to enrich the lives of children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
"It's important to give back to the community," he added. Now, as the motorsports industry continues to change, Petty Enterprises has 160 employees and is partially focused on racing, but more focused on marketing, communicating the business goals and expectations to employees and using technology to grow the business.
Importance of communication
Petty spoke about the three things that will happen to every race car driver at some point, which are caused by a lack of communication. The first is when the driver leaves the garage area and someone has forgotten the hood pins. The second incident is the driver leaves pit row and someone didn't tighten the wheels. According to Petty, the last thing that a driver will always experience is hitting the wall so hard he doesn't know where he is for a week.
He reminded attendees that business models change and roadblocks exist. "If you come across a roadblock, take another road - as the model changes, one thing stays the same and that's your priorities. Put your priorities in order," he continued.
Petty's recipe for success includes putting family first, having passion for your job, having a plan for the future and communicating that plan. Finally, he pointed out that one person has to lead the ship by example. Petty fulfills that role admirably.