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Richard Petty - Growing Up With Cars

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Richard Petty was born on July 2, 1937 in Level Cross, North Carolina. He was the son of three-time NASCAR Grand National champion driver Lee Petty and his wife Elizabeth. In 1943, after a fire that destroyed the Petty home, the family moved to Randleman where Petty and his brother Maurice attended elementary and high school.

Cars were an integral part of Petty and Maurice's lives from the time were old enough to be aware. Lee Petty was constantly repairing, rebuilding and racing automobiles. By the time the two boys were about to become teenagers, they were members—sometimes the only members—of their father's pit crew at races mounted by the nascent NASCAR. Racing was in Richard Petty's blood, whether it was wagons, bicycles or cars. Even as a young boy, he seized every advantage over his opponents. When he was eight, Richard, Maurice, and a friend were racing wagons. "I had a plan," he wrote in his autobiography, King Richard I, "I went straight to the reaper shed and got a can of axle grease from the shelf, and I took off each wheel and greased the daylights out of the axles.… Dale and Maurice didn't know they were in a race; they thought they were just playing, but I meant business. I beat them both by a country mile." Petty concluded: "Racing Lesson Number One: If you can get an advantage, take it." Unfortunately the other two boys caught on to his trick, teaching him that the secrets of such advantages had to be held close to the vest.

Chronology

1937 Born July 2 in Level Cross, North Carolina to Lee and Elizabeth Petty
1949 Becomes Lee Petty's crew chief at age twelve
1958 Drives in his first NASCAR event
1959 Wins his first NASCAR race at Columbia Speedway
1960 Richard, Maurice, and Lee Petty race in the same event for the first and only time
1965 Pettys and Chrysler boycott NASCAR for part of the season when it bans their hemi-engine; Richard wins a national drag racing event
1967 Passes his father, Lee, for most career wins
1967 Wins ten consecutive races and 27 for the season
1970 Helps develop window net for stock cars after nearly losing his life in crash in race at Darlington, South Carolina
1973-74 Wins Daytona 500 two years in a row
1983 Celebrates 25 years in professional racing
1984 Wins 200th and final career race at Firecracker 400 at Daytona
1986 Makes 1000th career start
1988 Nearly loses his life in crash at Daytona 500
1991 Announces retirement
1992 Makes Fan Appreciation Tour
1995 Makes debut as color commentator on televised racing events
1999 Petty Enterprises celebrates 50th anniversary

Petty was just eight when an uncle let him drive an old 1938 Ford pickup for farm chores for the first time. In the meantime, he was learning what made a car run from his father, who besides being one of the great drivers of his day, was a master mechanic. He loved fixing cars almost as much as driving them fast and when folks asked what he planned to be when he grew up, he would answer: his father's mechanic car-builder. "They always looked at me like I was a little on the strange side, but it was the truth," he reported in King Richard I, "I wanted to see what made a car run; I didn't want to drive it." He was such a good mechanic that when he was just twelve years old, Lee made him his crew chief during races. Straight out of high school, Petty took a full-time job at his father's new racing company, Petty Engineering.

Richard Petty - Chronology [next]

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