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Petty, Waltrip Want No Part of Indy

Times Staff Writer

Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, two guys used to driving 200 m.p.h. with a roof over their head and surrounded by sheet metal, took a day off Thursday to watch some guys drive just as fast while sitting with their heads out in the open and the wind in their faces.

Petty and Waltrip want no part of it.

The two stock car champions, along with fellow driver Terry Labonte, took a stroll into the first turn at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and came back as goggle-eyed as any racing groupie here for the first time.

“I was absolutely astounded,” Waltrip said. “They go through that turn sooo fast, I don’t have any idea how they make it. If I was here for the start of the 500, I’d probably hyperventilate and pass out when they all go in that turn together. The track’s so narrow, there’s no way they can get through.”

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The NASCAR drivers had a race last Sunday at Talladega, Ala., for which all 40 cars qualified at better than 202 m.p.h. The slowest car in last year’s Indy 500 was over 204, and an even faster field is expected for this year’s race May 25.

Similar speeds don’t mean similar driving conditions, though.

“You can learn to drive a stock car driving on the street,” Waltrip said. “Nothing you do on the street can relate to what these guys are doing. I think you’d be better off knowing how to fly an airplane (than) to drive one of these things.”

Petty, a seven-time stock car champion, was here several years ago and said then that he didn’t want to get into any car that didn’t have a roof. He hasn’t changed his mind.

“I’ve always made my living driving a stock car,” he said. “It’s what I know best and it’s what I like to do. I never had any desire to try anything else.”

Petty and Waltrip were so sure they didn’t want to drive an open-wheel, open-cockpit car that they wouldn’t even sit in one along pit row.

“The driver’s compartment is so small it looks like they have to find drivers who are tailor-made to fit,” said Waltrip, whose seat in his Chevrolet is roomier than the family sedan’s. “If the compartment was bigger, I might reconsider. The difference between ours and theirs is like the difference between sitting in my bathroom at home and sitting in one of those Port-a-Potties.”

Petty and Waltrip disagreed, however, on the merits of racing stock cars on the relatively flat rectangle-oval of Indianapolis.

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Petty would like to see a Winston Cup race here because he believes running at Indy would add prestige to the stock car image.

“Indy just means racing,” he said. “I don’t know what else there is in this place, but as far as racing fans are concerned, Indy means racing, so I think it would be good for the stock cars.

“The lack of banking don’t make a whole lot of difference. This track is like Ontario, and we ran some real good races there.”

Waltrip, on the other hand, said that this is such an Indy car town that it would not be in good taste to run stock cars on the speedway.

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“Indianapolis is so involved in its own kind of racing that I don’t think the city, the track or the people here are ready for stock cars,” he said. “It would be an injustice to tradition.”

Labonte, the 1985 NASCAR champion, was more daring than his two associates, climbing into the cockpit of Bobby Rahal’s March.

“I’d like to drive an Indy car--but not here,” Labonte said. “I thought before I came here that I’d like to drive one at Indy, but that was before Darrell and I walked down to the first turn. That did it. I’d love to drive one on a road course where the speeds are not as high, but I sure wouldn’t want to come here to drive.”

The differences in the cars are as dramatic as the difference in their design. An Indy car weighs about 1,500 pounds and gets up to 750 horsepower from a turbocharged engine. A stock car weighs 3,700 pounds and gets between 550 and 600 horsepower from a stock block engine that is twice the size of its Indy car counterpart.

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There has been some crossover of drivers, but few have been successful in the other’s realm.

Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough and the late Lee Roy Yarbrough all tried their hand here, competing in 11 races overall. None finished higher than 17th, except for Donnie Allison, who was fourth in 1970.

Pancho Carter, who sat on the pole here last year, has driven in four NASCAR races this season and finished for the first time last Sunday at Talladega. He was 18th.

The only other Indy car driver to try the high banks this year has been A. J. Foyt, who has long made stock car races at the Daytona International Speedway part of his schedule. He won the Daytona 500 in 1972 and twice has won the Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500 in 1967.

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