"That was the start of the whole deal." – Richard Petty, on signing with STP as a full-time sponsor in 1972
The year 1972 marked the turning point that steered NASCAR down the road it's on today. Bill France Jr. took the reins from his father, Winston came on as a title sponsor and the Cup schedule was streamlined to provide some semblance of a "season." It was also the year STP became the first nationwide company to back a driver full time when it paid Petty Enterprises $250,000 to put its logo on the hood of Richard Petty's No. 43 for all 31 races.
"That was like money falling out of the sky because we had never had sponsorship," Petty said.
Originally, STP wanted the car painted red and Petty wanted it blue. The compromise – Petty blue with the red STP logo on the hood – became the most iconic paint scheme the sport has had and likely ever will.
The deal as primary sponsor would last 29 years, and the names STP and Petty would become as synonymous as Sonny and Cher. The relationship finally ended after the 2000 season when Clorox, which purchased STP in 1998, moved in another direction.
Still, the mental tie between the two brands was never really severed. In the NASCAR world, it's impossible to think of the No. 43 without picturing the STP paint scheme.
Sunday, you won't have to conjure up old memories: The 43 and STP are together again.
Having been sold to a private equity firm last year, STP is once again ramping up its profile in the racing business. The company is sponsoring Sunday's race – the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway – and will be the primary sponsor on the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 driven by AJ Allmendinger.
"The King tells a story when you were walking in Tokyo, someone screamed out, 'Richard Petty STP!' This was over in Japan," said John Paluga, an executive at STP's parent company Armored Auto Group. "These iconic brands are pretty much synonymous."
The re-emergence of the STP 43 conjures up more than memories, it raises the question of today's full-time sponsors, which are few and far between. With DuPont no longer serving as Jeff Gordon's primary sponsor, the longest-tenured relationship between driver and primary sponsor is Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's, a relationship that dates back to the final few races of the 2001 season.
Besides Johnson, the only current driver and primary sponsor pairing that have been together for at least five years is Denny Hamlin and FedEx (Home Depot has been the primary sponsor of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing car since 1999, but the driver changed in 2009).
The $250,000 price tag STP paid in 1972 has ballooned into the $15 million to $20 million range, forcing most organizations to plug in one sponsor here, another there.
Plugging and chugging has become the formula for Roush Fenway, which in 12 races this season has already put three different sponsors on the cars of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. Kyle Busch, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, has been sponsored by companies selling candy, batteries and gum. And STP will be the fifth different sponsor for the No. 43 this season.
"Economy-wise and stuff, it gets tougher for anybody to stay with anybody for that long," Petty said.
Petty's deal with STP is for just one race. The hope is to add more.
For this weekend anyway, Petty's vision is that having STP on the hood of the 43 will help bridge the gap between past and present by unveiling what once was to a younger generation of fans.
"This will bring all the history back," Petty explained. "The younger people that won't know what's going on, but when they start searching around … they'll start searching around and saying, 'Oooh, that's been there a long time.' When you look at me, you look at history."