About // Andy Petree
Andy Petree, a NASCAR veteran who has been a driver, car owner and two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup-winning crew chief for the late Dale Earnhardt, made his television debut in 2007 as an analyst on ESPN's multi-platform NASCAR coverage, working in the booth during race telecasts. The former short-track driver turned owner has experienced his share of the ins and outs of the sport. Petree occasionally raced from 1988 to 2004, with career-best finishes of 16th in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (1998) and 10th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (2003).
In 1981, he entered his first full-time racing job as a tire-changer with Junior Johnson's racing team, which won the Cup championship with driver Darrell Waltrip. He then joined the Leo Jackson racing team as a crew member, and by 1987, at the age of 29, Petree was a NASCAR Cup crew chief, steering Harry Gant to four consecutive Cup wins in 1991. In 1993, Petree joined Richard Childress Racing as the crew chief for the famous No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy driven by Dale Earnhardt. In that time, Petree helped Earnhardt and Richard Childress Racing grab back-to-back NASCAR championships in 1993 and 1994. In 1996, Petree purchased the Jackson race team, creating Andy Petree Racing.
As a car owner, Petree worked with notable drivers, including Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek, the late Bobby Hamilton and Greg Biffle. As an owner, Petree's breakout season was 2001, when his team earned its first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama with Hamilton behind the wheel.
To say that NASCAR mainstay Andy Petree has led a driven life is less a pun than a rank understatement. Though officially retired at age 51, he still flies his helicopter to races at least once a week to work as an announcer for ESPN/ESPN on ABC.
Petree has been a short-track racer and an owner - his team won first place at prestigious Talladega Superspeedway (the sport's longest track) in 2001. A few years later, he invented a pulldown rig to test suspension on cars; the device is now used in all major pro-racing shops.
But he is perhaps best known as former crew chief for the late, great Dale Earnhardt, helping NASCAR's top star to victory in the years he drove his iconic No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy. (A car chief is responsible for maintenance of the vehicle, while a crew chief oversees a team's entire operation: "He's like the head coach," explains Petree.)
The Hickory-born racing vet met with Carolina Home + Garden at his massive garage/helicopter hangar/gym, set on a rural 60-acre spread in Henderson County that is also home to "The Barn," an adjoining building his wife uses for entertaining. (Their actual house is down the road a bit.) The garage is grand, airy, tidy - and surprisingly free of racing mementoes. Trophies from Talladega are stuffed carelessly in an office corner, though the proud dad glows when he shows off the prominently displayed plaster impressions he made of his daughter Jonnie's hands and feet when she was an infant. (She's 12 now, "an amazing athlete," says Petree, who also sponsors a girls' softball team, The Lady Racers.)
Sitting still doesn't seem to come easy for Petree, but he managed to stay put long enough to offer readers an intriguing glimpse into his nonstop world.
What do you think of Danica Patrick and other female racecar drivers? Would you want your daughter to race?
I'm one of Patrick's biggest fans. I think the sport needs a competitive female driver. If NASCAR ever had a successful female driver, she would be bigger than Tiger Woods. I have two grown sons, and they loved to race, but they didn't want it bad enough to really go after it, and I never pushed them to do it. My daughter is a straight-A student who plays three sports, and if she wanted to race, I would do whatever it took to support her. But again, I have never forced my kids to take an interest in racing.
Obviously, this workspace is your home away from home.
I live here. I get up every morning, come here and work out, and then get busy doing whatever I'm working on, the cars or the suspension rigs or the helicopter. We eat here, or sometimes a couple of the guys and I will go out to lunch.
Do you ever miss the racing world?
I have been in the sport all my life on a major level, from working with Darrell Waltrip as a tire changer [in 1981] to being a crew member, a car chief, a crew chief, a racer and an owner. I won two championships with the greatest driver on the planet. What I didn't like about racing was the politics and the pressure. When I built this place, I built it way too big. But I wanted it to be home-like - I wanted to slow down and see what it was like to live a regular-type life.
Why aren't more of your racing mementoes displayed?
People ask me that all the time - why they don't see more trophies, plaques, pictures. I don't know why. It's just not stuff that means a lot to me. I don't have time to sit back and dwell. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, but I look forward, not back. I go on to what's next.
What's your opinion of the Car of Tomorrow? (Also called the Car of Today or simply the "new car," it's the radically redesigned vehicle that was introduced after Earnhardt's death from a race crash in 2001.)
Before the concept of the new car was embraced, the sport was dangerous...very dangerous. When Earnhardt got killed, it was a turning point. Everyone said, we've got to make these cars safer. In the new car, everything is bigger, taller, wider, with expanded crush zones. It's a measurable amount safer.
But since every car brand has to adhere to the new template, don't certain design elements get sacrificed?
Yes. What we lost was identity. We lost the passion fans had for their favorite maker - Chevy, Ford, Dodge. Who had the biggest car, who had the best. And I wish we could get that back. That's the biggest negative of the new car.
Now for some non-race-related questions. What do you do to relax?
I love to fish, although I don't get to do it much. There's no place I'd rather be than on the lakehouse at Lake Norman in Charlotte, fishing and playing with the kids.
What's another favorite vacation spot?
Alaska. It's unbelievable. And winter is my off time, so I go with my family to the tropics quite a bit: Cancun, the Bahamas.
What was your favorite TV show as a kid?
[Laughs]. Leave it to Beaver.
What's your favorite meal?
I like a good steak filet. And my favorite restaurant right now is Mezzaluna in downtown Hendersonville. Everything they have is great.
Who are some heroes of yours who are not racing-related?
Chuck Yeager comes to mind. And my grandfather on my mother's side. We lost him in the '70s, but I think about him all the time. He helped shape my life. Also, all of the people in the military are heroes to me. I look up to them, and I thank God for them. They put their lives on the line for the freedoms we enjoy.