MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian/Researcher

Images Courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection

Published 11.17.2014

Richard Petty, the famous race car driver is sometimes the face of automotive racing in our history books and is considerate a legend and champion among many great racing fans. Petty was born on July 2, 1937. In 1959, Richard Petty was named NASCAR rookie of the year, after he produced many great finishes, including six top five finishes. Throughout his great racing career, Petty has won many competitive races on the track. Petty once said in the beginning of his career, “ I had an advantage over a lot of boys who started in Grand National cars. Because I helped build them from the time I was twelve years old. I didn't run my first one until I was twenty-one. So by that time I pretty well understood what was going on under the hood. Because I worked on them enough and saw my father run them enough. It gave me insight into what a car could do”.

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Richard Petty's father Mr. Lee Petty was a huge and great influence on Richard Petty's career. Richard Petty, was a second generation driver. Mr. Lee Petty , Richard's father had won the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and was a 3 times NASCAR champion.  At 26 years of age, Richard Petty, won the Daytona 500 race, driving a 1964 Plymouth model with a 426 Hemi engine. Petty would continue to dominate and win many more races throughout his career. Car number 43 was the symbol of Petty's  stock car races and In 1966, after a year's layoff when NASCAR had unfortunately banned the Hemi engine Petty this time had come back to racing in great style . He won his second Daytona  500 along with added other victories at Darlington and Rocking-ham his season's record included eight victories. Richard Petty once said this about the famous Hemi engine “ The Hemi engine was so superior to anything I'd ever driven before. Its got pure brute horsepower. It's just a thrill to drive behind one”.  

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In 1967, Richard Petty won twenty-seven victories, including an impossible win of 10 in a row. He also won his second Grand National championship as well. In 1968, Petty drove into the history books again with a victory of 16 wins and at the time, he even had passed his father's Mr. Lee Petty's record to win the title. 1970, Petty returned to Plymouth after a year's absence he took up where he left off this time driving a new Plymouth Superbird model which was one of the original wing cars. He won Atlanta, the second Riverside race and Rocking-ham which created more victories under his great winning title.

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During the 1960's, Ford motor company had lost four talented top drivers when it came down to racing. One of the drivers was  Fred Lorenzen, who was a great and talented driver. The Ford Motor company in the beginning had spoke with Petty about switching name plates however Ford officials decided then it wouldn't look good from a public relations standpoint because the Petty name was so identified with the Plymouth name plate . However in 1969, Richard Petty started racing Ford vehicles which left many fans very unhappy about this new racing adventure and some were even devastated by this move. In 1975, which was another historic year for Petty, as he won the world 600 for the first time in his career. In 1979, and 1981, Richard Petty won two more Daytona 500 races. On October 1, 1991 Richard Petty announced he would retire after the 1992 season. Richard Petty's, final top ten finish came in 1991.

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Over the years, Petty has received many great awards to add to his great resume for being one of the best  racing car drivers of all times. Petty, as received many prestiges awards over the years including the 1992 Presidential Medal Of Freedom award along with the 1997 International MotorSports Hall Of Fame award and the 2010 NASCAR Hall Of Fame Inductee along with many others as well. Today the family resides in Petty's home town of Level Cross North Carolina and own and operate Richard Petty MotorSports. Richard Petty, will always be a great legend and he will always be a great part of automotive heritage.

Bibliography

Wooten, James T. “In Carolina, the Petty Stock Rides High.” New York Times, April 4, 1971.

Preuss, Paul. “Racing Is Family Deal.” Detroit News.