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They Just Don’t Make Drivers Quite Like Kyle Petty Anymore

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Kyle Petty is one of the most intriguing characters in all of NASCAR. A member of NASCAR’s Royal Family, he’s a free-spirited motorcycle geek with great compassion and incredibly blunt and outspoken. He’s gone from a kid in the pitlane to one of the most recognizable and controversial faces in NASCAR, this is Kyle Petty.

  • Kyle Petty is the son of “The King” Richard Petty. While never quite reaching the heights of his father, Kyle put together a very respectable racing career, and he’s parlayed that into an interesting racing life afterward.
  • Petty is known now as an outspoken pundit on television along with his charitable efforts off the race track. He’s controversial to some, but, he’s still beloved by many.
  • Fans have a lot of fun with Kyle Petty given how outspoken and bold of a personality he has. Not everyone agrees with his takes, but, that controversy keeps people talking.

Kyle Petty’s Upbringing and Early Career

Kyle Petty is the son of racing royalty. His father, Richard Petty, won 200 NASCAR Cup Series races and 7 Championships, and his grandfather Lee Petty took home 3 Championships of his own.

In the below episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Kyle goes into detail about his upbringing in a racing family. He was a sponge, gathering up any information he could about race cars throughout his adolescence. He was even a member of the No. 43 crew before his driving career began.

As he mentions in the clip, Kyle never set foot in a race car until he was 18 years old, testing a car alongside his dad. Kyle’s first experience in a race car was him riding shotgun on the floorboard holding onto roll bars as Richard rode around Daytona at about 190 MPH.

Kyle was hooked after he drove a car himself, and he was entered in the 1979 Daytona ARCA 200. He took home the victory in his first-ever stock car race, leading 49 laps. From there, Petty worked his way into NASCAR with the family team, Petty Enterprises.

Petty’s Racing Career

Kyle spent the early part of his career from 1979-1984 driving for his dad. That changed in 1985 when The Wood Brothers came calling. The Wood Brothers had been primarily a part-time team throughout their history, but, in 1985, they decided to go full-time.

Petty impressed finishing 9th in the standings in his first season with them in 1985 and he followed that up with his first career win in 1986. It came in about the wackiest way possible, as Petty avoided a late melee started by Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt. Regardless, a win is a win.

He won the Coca-Cola 600 with The Wood Brothers in 1987, but, in 1989, Felix Sabates came calling. This is where Petty enjoyed his best years as a driver. From 1990 until 1993, Petty won 5 races, and he recorded 2 top-5 points finishes in 1992 and 1993. This included 3 wins at Rockingham, where he led 380, 433, and 484 laps respectively in those wins.

With long, curly hair, a mustache, and a free-spirited persona, Kyle was his own breed. He wasn’t just “Richard Petty’s Son”, he was Kyle Petty.

There were a couple of moments in this time where Petty’s outspokenness was shown. One came in the 1990s when he was penalized for starting a crash to get a lap back at Charlotte. Petty said that if Dale Earnhardt did that, it would be a “Racing deal”, and Sebates painted Petty’s car black, just like Earnhardt’s the next week at Dover.

Petty also was critical of Darlington Raceway in 1995. He said that he hated Darlington, and he felt it’d be better served to host fishing tournaments instead of auto races.

Another example came 10 years later in 2005. After crashing out on the last lap of the UAW Ford 500 at Talladega, Petty decided he wanted to finish the race. He tiptoed around the track in a car that most junkyards would reject, and he found a way to, technically, finish the race.

Late Racing Career, Tragedy and Triumph

However, while Petty’s personality elicited many reactions, he was well past his prime at this point. After 1993, he never finished in the top 10 in points for the rest of his career, which lasted until 2008.

More tragically, Kyle had to deal with the death of his son Adam. Kyle switched his number from 44 to 45 in late 2000 as a tribute to Adam.

In light of that tragedy, Kyle and others helped to start Victory Junction, a summer for kids who suffer from life-threatening or chronic illnesses. According to the website, Adam loved to visit pediatric hospitals between races. The camp opened in 2004.

One of the ways Petty funds Victory Junction is through his annual motorcycle tour, the “Kyle Petty Charity Ride”. Founded in 1995, the ride goes across the country every summer, raising money for Victory Junction.

Life as a Broadcaster

As Kyle’s driving career came to a close in the 2000s, he turned his attention to his next job, broadcasting. After the death of Benny Parsons, Petty, who still drove at the time, was tabbed to be a color commentator for TNT’s coverage of NASCAR’s Summer Series. A replacement driver took over the duties of the No. 45 car during the summer.

Well, except for Sonoma, where Petty and TNT came up with a unique idea. Petty would function as an “In-race reporter” at Sonoma with Bill Weber and Wally Dallenbach in the booth. It all fell apart on lap 1 when Petty dropped an “F-bomb” live on the air after contact with Matt Kenseth.

TNT never tried it again, and Petty was done with driving for good anyway after the 2008 season. He stayed with TNT, while also joining as an analyst for NASCAR RaceDay on Speed before the channel went off the air in 2013. In 2015, he joined NBC as a pre/post-race and studio analyst

The desk analyst role is where he shines the most. Petty is very blunt, and he has no qualms about calling out something he doesn’t like. He frequently calls out both NASCAR and the drivers for whatever it is, regardless of whether he thinks it’s popular or not.

Not everyone agrees with what he says, but, that doesn’t mean he’s afraid to say it. The personality that shone through on the race track still shows in a different light nowadays.

Kyle Petty is very much uniquely himself, and he’s not everybody’s cup of tea. However, he’s done some remarkable charity work, and he had a solid driving career all things considered. There’s just no one quite like him.

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