LONG BEACH, Calif. — Considering his longtime career as a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series it should be no surprise that Kyle Petty was the fastest Pro driver in Friday’s qualifications for Saturday’s Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race — just faster than two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion Al Unser Jr.
Petty seemed to enjoy being in the spotlight once again but he also took time to talk about the death of his mother, Lynda, who passed away from a long illness on March 25.
“My mother passed away several weeks ago and The King is doing pretty good,” Kyle said of his father, Richard. “He is used to going to the race tracks and being alone but he is not used to coming home and being alone. I’ve stayed with him some and my sisters have stayed with him some so it’s just going to take time. They had been together 57 years. Even though he spent 50 of those 57 years away on the road at the race track according to him it’s been a lot harder and a lot tougher.
“My mother had been sick for 4-1/2, almost five years so it was really hard. But he’s doing well.”
On another note, the only time Kyle Petty and Al Unser Jr. competed against each other was in the 1993 Daytona 500. Petty was a contender for the victory that day before he was involved in a crash with Bobby Hillin, Jr. and referred to him as “That Blind Boy” in an interview after the crash. Unser was up to fifth in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet before the late Dale Earnhardt nudged Unser into the tri-oval grass and out of the race.
“I remember slamming Bobby Hillin’s visor down,” Petty said. “But I will say this to this group. The King and I were talking after I went to Willow Springs and spent a few days with Little Al to prepare for this race. Follow Al around that track was phenomenal to me. I was never a great road racer but he helped a ton.
“When I got home and talked to The King he told me that during that period of time in the early 1990s Little Al was the only one that he thought could come from open wheel to Cup and win races and championships and be successful. That spoke volumes because as we all know The King can be pretty opinionated and doesn’t compliment a lot of people. But that was huge to me because Little Al came to Daytona and was really competitive that year and that was the only NASCAR race he had run. That’s a race you look back and think A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti – what would it have been like if Little Al had come to NASCAR and run – if he had a shot at it in his prime.
“It’s fun to compare Unser stories and Richard Petty stories. It’s almost like they had the same father in a lot of ways and that’s really cool.”