Andy Petree has been to Bristol Motor Speedway in a variety of roles and with a variety of race car drivers.
Certainly, one driver who stood out was seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt.
With Earnhardt coming off a one-win season in 1992, Petree was named crew chief of No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team before the 1993 season. There was a rocky beginning as both had head-strong personalities.
“Initially, we butted heads big time,” said Petree, now an analyst for ESPN. “The first two or three races, we were not getting along at all. We were a lot alike. I didn’t know that until I worked for him.”
The problem was Earnhardt had five championships already, and he wanted to call the shots in the pits as well as driving the race car. Petree had to stand his ground and it even took car owner Richard Childress getting involved before the issue was resolved.
“We butted heads so many times because he wanted to make these calls and run things from the driver’s seat,” Petree said. “I told him, ‘No, that’s not how it’s going to work. I don’t know what you’ve done before, but I’ve been given a job to do and I’m going to do it.” Richard had to separate us and get us on the same page. Once he did that, we bonded.”
Their bonding was bad news for the rest of the NASCAR garage. They won back-to-back titles in 1993-94, which tied Earnhardt with Richard Petty for the most championships. Still, it was never an easy task being crew chief for a driver nicknamed “The Intimidator.”
“It was a lot of stress being his crew chief, but the reason was the expectations were always so high,” Petree said. “I knew when I took the job if we weren’t successful, I knew that would probably be the end of my career. The championship years, especially when you’re running in the old points system, it can so stressful at the end of the year. You don’t sleep and don’t get along with anybody.”
Still, Petree wouldn’t change the experience for any amount of money. He remembered it as his greatest time as a competitor. The moments like their win in the 1994 Food City 500 led to memorable celebrations.
“It’s just really stressful with the expectations, but I’ve never had more fun than being his crew chief, the times we had and the races we won,” he said. “I was thinking about coming to Bristol and when Earnhardt took the lead, it was before all the TV stuff of today. You didn’t have to see it. You could hear all the people in the stands and see them jump up, even if you couldn’t see it.”
Petree has been to Bristol as a fan, a driver of a late model car, a crew chief and a car owner. It has led to some interesting moments like the time he had to come over the radio and calm down his driver Phil Parsons who was talking about wrecking Petree’s best friend Dale Jarrett.
Besides Earnhardt, Petree was best known for working with Harry Gant and the Skoal Bandit team. While they had their share of success like a four-race winning streak in 1991 and battling for the championship in back-to-back seasons, their efforts at Bristol usually ended in frustration.
“We were really close to the championship in ‘91 and I talked to Harry and said, ‘Look, we need to get through this race without wrecking,’” Petree said. “We were leading the race and somehow a lapped car wrecked him. I was so mad. I had never been so mad at him in my life because it didn’t matter and it was in the middle of the race. That was the problem. We never could finish a race. The four years I was with Harry, we may have only finished one or two races up here without damage.”