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Lee Petty - A Complicated Man

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For some who knew him Lee Petty was uncommunicative, tight-fisted, and a dirty competitor. Others, however, found that he was also a gentleman. Driver Ned Jarrett was close behind Petty for ten laps with no way to get past in one race. Finally Jarrett bumped Petty's car. After the race Petty pulled Jarrett aside and advised him to learn some manners when driving. However a few days later, when the two met at another track and Petty learned Jarrett didn't have a car to race, he told him that if he had known he would have brought one for him. "I learned right then that I'd got the man's respect," Jarrett said, according to Estes Thompson of the Associated Press. Those who knew Petty in his hometown of Level Cross, North Carolina felt that success and fame never changed him. Petty lived out his life in the same home he built for his family after their house burned down.

In his retirement, Lee Petty continued as head of Petty Enterprises. In his later years he became a fanatic golfer, playing often four times a week. In February 2000 he underwent surgery for a stomach aneurysm. He never recovered. On April 5, 2000 he passed away at Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Related Biography: Racecar Driver Adam Petty

When seventeen-year-old Adam Petty, Lee Petty's great-grandson, drove his first race on April 11, 1998, he was writing the beginning of another chapter in the Petty family's book of records. It was the first time four generations of a single family had participated in a professional sport. From the start it was clear that he was cut from the same mold as his grandfather (Richard Petty) and great-grandfather. He won his first race just two months after his debut, the youngest winning driver ever in the American Speed Association, and won in his first Winston Cup race in 2000 before the assembled Petty clan. Three days later, Lee Petty passed away. Even as an amateur, Adam seemed to have a penchant for getting into wrecks. In May 2000, just five weeks after his great-grandfather's death, a bad crash ended Adam Petty's brief NASCAR career tragically. In a preliminary at the New Hampshire International Speedway, the 19-year-old lost control of his car and was killed when it hit the wall. The Petty dynasty had apparently come to an unexpected sudden end.

Lee Petty left behind a legacy that is unique in professional sports. In addition to being a pioneer of NASCAR and one of its greatest drivers, and to compiling a record of wins that is still number six on the all-time NASCAR list—doubly remarkable considering he didn't start racing until he was already thirty-five—he started a formidable racing dynasty. His son Richard is the all-time leader in wins, his grandson Kyle drove, and—until his tragic death at 19—so did his great-grandson Adam Petty. It was the first time that four generations from a single family participated in a professional sport. It is unlikely sport will witness the likes of Lee Petty or his family again.

Lee Petty - Related Biography: Racecar Driver Adam Petty [next] [back] Lee Petty - Awards And Accomplishments

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