Four generations of Pettys have wheeled race cars under the Petty Enterprises banner.
Lee Petty, who founded the operation in Level Cross, N.C., won three NASCAR championships and 54 races. His son, Richard Petty, is a seven-time Cup Series champion and recorded 197 of his 200 victories with Petty Enterprises. Third-generation driver Kyle Petty and fourth-generation driver Adam Petty were also winners for the team.
Adam Petty was 19 when he lost his life in an accident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on May 12, 2000. Lee Petty died a month earlier at the age of 86. Richard Petty’s younger brother, Maurice Petty, a master engine builder, died July 25 at age 81.
While Richard Petty has continued to play a key role with Richard Petty Motorsports, Kyle Petty has always been his own man — living life his way. That includes recording country music and opening shows for acts such as Randy Travis and Hank Williams Jr. He also became a father for a fifth time at the age of 60.
Since retiring from driving in 2008, Kyle Petty has worked as an a commentator for television coverage of NASCAR events. Petty, who won eight NASCAR Cup Series races during his 30-year driving career, currently works as an analyst for NBC Sports.
Having grown up within the sport’s royal family, there is no better storyteller in all of NASCAR than Kyle Petty, who knew early in life he’d be a race car driver.
“I can put it this way,” Kyle Petty said. “Everyone that lived around us were either tobacco farmers, dairy farmers or chicken farmers. All my friends that I played Little League baseball with wanted to be a farmer because that’s what they grew up with. That’s what they knew most.
“So at 6 or 7 years old, I was already a third-generation race car driver and some of my friends were set to become fourth- or fifth-generation famers. If you lived in town, you worked in the mill. If you lived out of town, you worked on the farm.”
The old Petty Enterprises complex is truly hallowed ground as it dates back to when Lee Petty raced out of a small reaper shed beside the Petty home in 1948.
“Again, my point of reference is the community I grew up in. If you go to Petty Enterprises, it’s the same way,” Kyle Petty explained. “When they bought another car to race, they added another segment on to it. They poured another piece of concrete and built walls around that. You can walk through that place and look at the concrete and see where my granddad put his initials of LAP (Lee Arnold Petty) there before it dried.
“The first piece would say LAP 1947, the next LAP 1952 and the next LAP 1956 and so on,” Petty continued. “Every piece of concrete had that. Even post LAP would say PLAP 19-whatever because that’s how they identified when it was put there. There have been probably 12 or 14 expansions to the Petty Enterprises building since 1949 or 1950. We call it the house of a thousand doors because everything connects. They would knock a hole in the wall and put in a door and build on. It’s a maze that connects you from 1947 all the way to 2007 or 2008.”
Kyle Petty also remembers the days when there were only a dozen or so employees, including Richard, Maurice and longtime crew chief Dale Inman. While at the track, grandmother Elizabeth Petty and mother Lynda Petty made fried chicken, ham biscuits, potato salad, vegetables and desserts for the drivers and crew. Petty Enterprises was always about family.
“At Christmas, everyone would come to the shop and exchange presents. They were just family. You could ask anyone who worked there and they would say the same thing,” Petty said. “Nobody ever worked for Petty Enterprises. They always worked with Petty Enterprises or Lee Petty or Richard Petty or Kyle Petty.
“To this day, if you have ever worked at Petty Enterprises in any capacity at any time, there’s a Christmas party held at the shop that includes every past employee. You’d see aunts and uncles and cousins that were there as well and all of the people who worked there. But everyone is family and always will be.”
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