From a weekly short-track racer to a NASCAR championship crew chief to a NASCAR Cup winning team owner, Andy Petree’s more than 40-year racing career has encompassed every facet of the sport; a professional journey that has led to him being named this year’s recipient of the prestigious Smokey Yunick Award.
Petree was presented the award Sunday by Speedway Motorsports CEO and President Marcus Smith prior to the fifth edition of the Bank of America ROVAL™ 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Like Smokey, I came from humble beginnings, and I feel blessed to be able to make a career out of this,” said Petree, who now serves as the vice president of competition for Richard Childress Racing. “Just having Smokey Yunick and my name on the same plaque is very special. It’s very humbling, and I appreciate it.”
Petree joins a lengthy list of NASCAR greats who have received the honor, including Cotton Owens, Banjo Mathews, Ralph Moody, Ray Evernham, Dale Inman, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Waddell Wilson, Larry McReynolds and Gary Nelson.
Legendary car owner and mechanic Henry “Smokey” Yunick instituted the award in 1997 to annually recognize an individual who rose from humble beginnings to make a major impact on the motorsports industry. Yunick passed away on May 9, 2001, and Charlotte Motor Speedway has continued the award in his memory.
“It’s such a pleasure to present this award every year,” said Marcus Smith, the president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports. “Our sport has an amazing history. Smokey was renowned for his innovation and his creativity, and every year, we’re paying honor to the legends that paved the way for the rest of us today. We’re really pleased to present it to Andy Petree this year.”
Born in Newton, N.C., Petree grew up listening to cars driven by Ned Jarrett, Bobby Isaac, Tommy Houston and Harry Gant roar around Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway. He started his racing career as a mechanic for friend John Settlemyre, who won five consecutive track championships at Hickory, 1977-81.
However, Petree wanted to build his own car to race at the weekly short track. With the help of friend Jimmy Newsome, Petree constructed a 1968 Chevrolet Nova, but the two young men ran out of money before they could purchase an engine for it. Ned Jarrett agreed to provide the duo an engine on one condition, his younger son, Dale, would drive the car. That endeavor led the three friends to form DAJ Racing, an acronym for the first names of the team’s three partners – Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree and Jimmy Newsome. However, Petree didn’t confine himself to building cars. Occasionally he would race at Hickory, but he quickly realized his future was in working on race cars.
In 1981, Petree joined Junior Johnson’s operation as a tire changer for Darrell Waltrip, who earned his first NASCAR Cup championship that season. He then moved to the team owned by brothers Leo and Richard Jackson and worked his way up through the ranks. In 1987 at age 28, Petree was named crew chief for Phil Parsons.
When the Jackson brothers decided to own separate race teams, Leo Jackson purchased Hollywood stuntman and director Hal Needham’s operation and Petree went with him to become Harry Gant’s crew chief. Petree and Gant recorded nine victories during their four-year stint, including four straight in September 1991.
After 1992, Richard Childress needed a new crew chief for five-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt, and he set his sights on Petree. The duo proved successful, claiming back-to-back championships in 1993 and 1994. In three seasons together, they won just under $10 million, two championships and 15 races.
When Leo Jackson decided to retire, he offered to sell his team to his former crew chief. Petree accepted and Andy Petree Racing was born, first as a single-car team and then later a two-car operation. In 322 races over an eight-year period, Petree’s team recorded two victories, 16 top-five and 54 top-10 finishes, six poles and $17.6 million in winnings.
Petree, who had five NASCAR Xfinity races under his belt as a driver, briefly returned to competition after shutting down his Cup operation. He competed in one Modified, seven Camping World Truck Series, and two ARCA races before turning his attention to television.
Petree was a color commentator for ESPN/ABC 2007-2014. In 2015, he was hired by Fox Sports as a rules analyst for its NASCAR telecasts but he didn’t return the following season. He joined Richard Childress Racing in 2017 as its vice president of competition.