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Richard Petty - The King's Last Lap

won wall mile hundred

Lee didn't so much encourage Richard to drive as not stand in his way. As he lay in a hospital bed, with a punctured lung, fractured chest, and broken left thigh, he told Richard the family car was now his to ride. He wondered if his boy's blood bubbled the same as his.

By then, the speed-way era was in full swing. The debut of the 2.5-mile Daytona Speed-way was followed by 1.5-mile tracks in Charlotte and Atlanta. Racing was about two-hundred-mile-per-hour speeds. It needed a new, more calculating driver. Lee bluntly drove the bullrings. His son decided to try something different. He seduced the speedways.

Richard drove closer to the wall than anyone, which is like leaning into a Mike Tyson punch, except that the wall hits harder. But Richard got along well with the wall. He was economical, deliberative, patient. When he saw that your tires were getting bald after all your foolish banging, he'd come down off the high groove like the devil himself, and you'd be passed, son.

"When they start the next race," he says matter-of-factly, "I won more than all them put together. Next was David Pearson. Then Bobby Allison. Dale Earnhardt may have won seven championships, but he ain't won but seventy-four races. He ain't but an honorable mention. After that, there's guys who won ten. And I won two hundred." How did that two hundredth feel, coming on July 4, 1984, with fireworks and a personal embrace by President Ronald Reagan? "Just another day in the life of Richard Petty," he says.

Source: Shaun Assael. Esquire, March 1997, p. 102.

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