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Every Petty’s First and Last Race

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Wyatt Bell

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When you think NASCAR, you think Petty. Whether you know the sport well as an avid fan and historian or a casual fan who has only watched a few races here and there, you’ve likely heard the name Petty mentioned. That’s because NASCAR and the Petty family are intertwined, and you can’t mention one without mentioning the other. The roots run deep, and the Petty name is written all over the history of stock car racing.

  • The Petty family is a NASCAR dynasty with four generations of drivers who have been involved in the sport for 75 years.
  • The family patriarch, Lee Petty, began racing in NASCAR in the inaugural NASCAR season in 1949.
  • Lee has been followed by three more generations of Petty’s, who have established the family alongside the Earnhardt’s as NASCAR royalty. We will be taking a closer look at the Petty racing family, specifically the first and last races of Lee, Richard, Kyle, and Adam Petty.

Lee Petty (1949-1964)

Lee Petty, the original Petty racer, first competed in NASCAR in the series’ first season in 1949. His first race was at Charlotte Motor Speedway that same year, where he ran a Buick Roadmaster against 32 other drivers. Only 11 of the 33 cars in the field finished the full 150-mile scheduled distance, which did not include Petty, who only completed 105 laps, officially finishing 17th.

Lee’s last race was in 1964 at Watkins Glen. After suffering a terrible crash in 1961 at Daytona, which nearly took his life, Lee did not compete regularly in NASCAR beyond 1961, making spot starts here and there over the next three years. The race at The Glen would see Petty retire early from the event due to a handling issue, ultimately leading to a 22nd place finish, ironically one position behind his son, Richard, who we will talk about next. His career spanned 15 years, including 54 race wins and three NASCAR Grand National Series championships.

Richard Petty (1958-1992)

Richard Petty, known as “The King,” is well-known as the most successful of the Petty racers, with a career that lasted 34 years across five different decades. His first race was a NASCAR Grand National Series event at Canadian National Exposition Speedway, where he finished 17th out of 19 entries. The race was won by his father, Lee. While Richard’s first race did not go too well, only completing 55 of the 100 laps due to an accident, he went on to have arguably the most successful career anyone has ever seen in NASCAR.

The King’s last race was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992, where he finished 35th place out of 41 entries. It was certainly an unceremonious end to a magical career, but this race holds a very meaningful place in NASCAR history. As it marked the end of one Hall of Fame career, it also signaled the very beginning to another, with this particular race being the first career start of Jeff Gordon’s illustrious career. The King ended his 34-year run with a NASCAR record 200 career wins and seven Cup Series championships, which is tied for the most all-time with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson.

Kyle Petty (1979-2008)

The third-generation Petty racer, Kyle Petty, debuted at the 1979 Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Carrying the weight of the family name on his shoulders from the second he climbed into his Dodge on that August afternoon in Talladega, Alabama, Petty raced his way to a top-10 finish. Finishing the 500-mile affair with a respectable 9th place, he finished only five spots behind his, at the time, six-time NASCAR champion father.

Kyle’s last race came 29 years later, making his final start at Phoenix Raceway at the conclusion of the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The race didn’t go particularly well for Kyle, as he finished in the 39th position after exiting early due to an accident on lap 270. While his final race didn’t end in the most glorious fashion, Kyle had a respectable career that spanned nearly three decades. He collected 8 career Cup Series wins, which is no small feat at the highest level of stock car racing.

Adam Petty (1998-2000)

Adam Petty, the son of Kyle Petty, was the fourth generation of the Petty racing family to compete in NASCAR, becoming the first fourth-generation driver in NASCAR history. Adam made his NASCAR debut in what was then known as the Busch Series in the 1998 CarQuest Auto Parts 250 at Gateway, now known as WWT Raceway. Adam finished in the 27th position, two laps down.

He went on to make his Cup Series debut in 2000 in the Directv 500 at Texas Motor Speedway at the age of 19. He drove his father Kyle’s #45 Sprint Chevrolet Monte Carlo, finishing in the 40th position after an engine failure caused him to DNF. This race is notable for being the first win of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s. Cup Series career.

Adam’s last start was in the 2000 Hardee’s 250 Busch Series race at Richmond Raceway. He finished 16th in what, unknowingly at the time, became the final race of his life.

Adam tragically passed away the following weekend during a practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon when his throttle stuck, sending him into the turn three wall at full speed. Adam’s death ultimately led to the implementation of a kill switch on the steering wheel to avoid similar incidents from occurring at Loudon, which had become notorious for the kind of accident that killed Adam.

The Petty Legacy

While no Pettys are actively driving or competing in NASCAR today, the Petty legacy is already cemented in NASCAR history and forever will be. Lee and Richard are already enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, and you can take in the full history of the Petty racing family by visiting the Petty Museum in Randleman, North Carolina. You will also see the iconic #43 and #42 cars on track every week during Cup Series action for Legacy Motor Club. If you’re around NASCAR in any capacity, you won’t have to look far to find Petty influence all over the sport. Who knows, you may even look up see a red and blue #43 flag flying high in the infield of your favorite track!

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Picture of Wyatt Bell

Wyatt Bell

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