At least, that’s how son Kyle Petty came to understand the situation.
“What amazes me about my father is this – as a driver, everything he did, but when I was growing up, our house was right next door to the race shop. He would come home for lunch, go to work in the morning at 7 or 8 [o’clock]. You would hear him beating on the roof of that car because he was a fabricator. Everybody worked on the car, drivers and everybody.
“He would come home for lunch … then he would lay down in the middle of the living room floor, sleep till 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, get up and go back to work.
“I never found that strange until you look at his career and you think that the man won 200 races, seven Daytona 500s, seven championships working half days.”
“I just want you to think about that. That may be the greatest statistic of all time to me.”
Petty, 72, was one of five NASCAR legends inducted into the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Sunday. Also inducted were NASCAR founder William H.G. France, his son, Bill France Jr., legendary driver/owner Junior Johnson and seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
“I want to start off with thanking the two most important people in Richard Petty's life, Lee and Elizabeth Petty, for bringing me into the world,” Petty, sporting his familiar cowboy hat and sunglasses, said in his opening remarks. His wife, Lynda, he said, “has been trying to put up with me, Kyle, all the girls now, for like 51 years. So without her looking after things at home when I was out wandering around with a race car [and] having a good time, I wouldn't be here, a lot of my kids wouldn't be here.”
Petty attributed much of his success to his brother Maurice, his cousin Dale Inman and his teammates at family-owned Petty Enterprises, which he said formed “the nucleus of one of the best racing teams that's ever been on the face of the planet.
“To have all the people that surrounded those people – I've never done anything. We, as a group, did a lot. We, as a group here, do a lot.”
Petty’s arrival into stock car racing – he made his first start in Columbia, S.C., soon after turning 21 – was not unexpected. His father, Lee, was a three-time NASCAR champion and was one of the first to realize a race team could be run as a business. Putting Richard behind the wheel of a second car for the team might have cost more, but it also generated more income to keep the family business running.
Few could have imagined, however, that the younger Petty’s stay in the sport would have been so long, or quite so successful.
Petty’s efforts outside the car were every bit as impressive as his accomplishment behind the wheel, Inman said.
“From day one, Richard understood what it was to be good to the fans, the sponsors, and to love a good family,” Inman said. “And to this day, he carries that through, even with his family, the trials they've been through, the lows, the highs that this family has endured.”
“He is the biggest fan of the sport that ever lived,” Kyle Petty said. “I think that's what made him a great race-car driver. He loves the sport. He carries a passion for this sport. He loves to drive. He loves to work on [the car]. He loves the guys he raced against. He loved the fans. He loved everything about the sport.”
That love was shown in a myriad of ways, but perhaps none so clearly as Petty’s devotion to the fans. He was perhaps the first in the sport to understand the relationship between the stars in the cars and the folks sitting in the grandstands. Whether it was a crowd of a couple of thousand at a dirt track in the 1960s or a packed house of 150,000 or more at a superspeedway two decades later, Petty treated them all with equal respect, often staying hours after a race to sign autographs.
“The fans [are] what it's all about,” Petty said. “We wouldn't be here without the fans. There wouldn't be a Richard Petty. There wouldn't be a NASCAR. But the press was telling the fans about NASCAR. The fans came. The fans developed a love, a real love, for it.
“So, you know, I appreciate being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I appreciate the guys that voted for me. … I guess I'm going to do like [television character] Gomer Pyle – I'm just going to say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”
NASCAR Hall Of Fame Biography Specials on SPEED
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