Seth and Sutton Sharp
January 7, 2018
When Richard Petty made the 1184th and final start of his Winston Cup career in 1992, it marked a new beginning. Not only would a new driver be donning the STP colors every Sunday but the familiar No. 43 left with Petty as well.
Rick Wilson was the first driver faced with the task of following Petty. His first season in the car, the No. 44, turned out to be his only, as Petty moved on after Wilson finished 28th in points.
Wally Dallenbach was the next driver tapped to drive for The King, but this time the familiar No. 43 returned to the track. The 1994 season showed promise but inconsistency, as Dallenbach posted the team’s best average finish since 1988, but also failed to qualify for six of the first 20 races. He was let go following a 14th place finish at Watkins Glen.
John Andretti took over the No. 43 at Michigan and promptly qualified the car on the outside of the front-row. Andretti drove the final 11 races of the season, posting a career-best 11th place finish at Richmond.
Petty finally found stability and success in 1995 after hiring Bobby Hamilton to drive for him.
Hamilton, who entered the season with eight career top-ten finishes, flourished with Petty. He notched four top-fives and 10 top-10s, en-route to a 14th place finish in the points standings. Between 1989 and 1994, the STP car had only combined for one top-five and six top-10s between Petty, Wilson, Andretti, Dallenbach and Jimmy Hensley.
Hamilton stepped up even larger in 1996, finishing ninth in points and picking up his first career Winston Cup victory at Phoenix. It was the first win for the No. 43 car since the 1984 Firecracker 400 when Petty was driving for Mike Curb.
Hamilton and Petty’s magic dwindled in 1997, as Hamilton announced he was leaving the team at the end of the season. With Richard’s son Kyle returning to the organization with a newly formed team, Hamilton felt like he wasn’t receiving the attention and support that he was in previous years.
Petty talked about the situation to the media. “We just agreed to disagree. There was no argument or contract dispute. The crew has been trying to prove how good the car is and Bobby has been trying to prove to those other people how good a driver he is.”
Hamilton not only wanted to prove how good of a driver he was to interested teams, but to Petty as well. After they mutually agreed to part-ways for the 1998 Winston Cup season, the two made a friendly bet at dinner one night. “I’ll bet you $100,000 you don’t win another race for me”, Petty said.
“It started out as kidding around but I asked him if it was a real bet.”, Hamilton said. “It was a one-sided deal and I didn’t have anything to lose.”
On the same day Richard Petty announced to the media that his team was joining the internet, “We’re announcing a web page, whatever that is”, Hamilton made Petty pay up. He led the final 16 laps at Rockingham on his way to Victory Lane, and to the bank. “We kind of stopped talking about it, but when the flagman showed three laps to go I said, ‘cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.” His win came exactly one year to the day of his first victory at Phoenix.
The win earned the team $89,150, but did Petty pay up on his end of the bet? “It cost me $100,000, so that sounds like a real bet to me!”
‘Quotes acquired from the Associated Press’
‘Pictures of the 1997 AC Delco 400 from the 1997 Winston Cup Yearbook’