CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Richard Petty's famed No. 43 Dodge was rescued from near ruin Thursday when Gillett Evernham Motorsports agreed to merge with Petty's slumping organization to create a new team.
GEM had been in exclusive negotiations with Petty Enterprises to combine the two teams into one four-car organization, and an agreement in principle was reached Thursday. The deal is not expected to be closed until the end of the month.
The team will be co-owned by Richard Petty, Petty Holdings -- which is owned by majority shareholder Boston Ventures -- and Gillett Evernham Motorsports. Ray Evernham, who formed his team in 1999 but sold majority interest to Canadian businessman George Gillett Jr. in 2007, will be a minority owner in the venture.
The name of the new team was not released, but it's believed the parties are leaning toward re-branding the organization Richard Petty Motorsports to capitalize on the seven-time NASCAR champion's name.
"I want to get back to winning and together we will bring the resources, technology and infrastructure to do that," Petty said in a statement. "This was a big decision for us, but it's something we really wanted to do. We hope everyone in the sport embraces what George and I are doing."
Petty Enterprises was once one of the most dominant teams in NASCAR, as Petty won 200 Cup races and seven championships. But the team hit hard times as it fell behind in nearly every aspect of the sport, and without a merger, it wasn't clear the team could survive the current economic crisis.
A two-car operation this past season, but without sponsorship secured for the upcoming season, the team laid off most of its employees and said it would only field the No. 43 this year. Bobby Labonte announced he was leaving the team shortly after.
Given new life under the agreement with Gillett, Petty said it will be business as usual going forward.
"Nothing is going to change for me," he vowed. "I'm going to be at the track every weekend and really involved with the teams and drivers back at the shop. We are very happy. George and I have a lot of work to do, but we have a plan and we'll be ready for Daytona."
Petty Enterprises is the winningest team in NASCAR history with 268 Cup victories since 1949. But its last victory came with John Andretti in 1999, and the team lost longtime sponsor General Mills at the end of last season.
Faced with mounting economic issues, Petty sold majority interest to Boston Ventures last June, but the private equity firm couldn't stop the slide.
They then scoured the market for a partner, and found one in Gillett, who was looking to merge with a smaller team to help expand his organization to the NASCAR maximum four cars.
"To join with Richard Petty and Petty Holdings is such an honor for me and my family," said Gillett, who also owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens and the Liverpool soccer team in the English Premier League.
"Richard and I have gotten to know each other well over the last few years and both of us believe we have formed something that NASCAR fans will support. We plan to keep the Petty name in the forefront of NASCAR. We ask that all of the King's fans join with us.
"Our goal is to get the cowboy hat and sunglasses back in Victory Lane."
Copyright 2009 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press.