In honor of Richard Petty's induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Sunday, I wrote a feature story for ESPN.com about the oft-forgotten impact that The King had in terms of forever changing the model of race team sponsorship through three simple letters.
The focus of the piece was how the legendary marriage started. However, I was only able to briefly touch on the last chapter of that relationship. Specifically, how it ended. That part I experienced personally.
By the mid-'90s the cost of a primary Cup Series team sponsorship -- in simpler terms, being on the hood of the car -- began to escalate into the tens of millions. In 1999, STP, a relatively small company by modern NASCAR sponsorship scales, ended a decade and a half of passing through various mergers and acquisitions when it became part of the Clorox Company.
Petty, retired for nearly seven years, was then a team owner and the car was driven by John Andretti (his uncle Mario won the Indy 500 in 1969 with STP on the nose of his ride).
Later that year, during Labor Day weekend at Darlington, Petty held a press conference to announce that, after more than a quarter century, STP would be replaced as the primary sponsor of the famous No. 43 Pontiac. The new colors would belong to General Mills and its Cheerios brand.
Though NASCAR sponsorship numbers are rarely revealed, the General Mills sponsorship was considered to be among the largest, if not the largest, that the sport had ever seen. As I wrote in the ESPN.com story, STP's marketing budget simply would no longer allow it to keep up with the monster that it had created 28 years earlier.