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‘Mind over matter’ philosophy keeps ‘The King’ going as he nears 80

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Richard Petty has been through a lot in nearly 80 years of life and 35 years of NASCAR racing.

“The King” has broken bones, had parts of his stomach and gallbladder removed and survived a brush with prostate cancer in 1995.

“I got a really good DNA as far as healing,” Petty said last month at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

After all the battle scars sustained through 1,184 Cup races and afterward, Petty feels like he did the day he retired in 1992.

“My daddy (Lee Petty) always said,’ I don’t know how you’re supposed to feel when you’re this old,’ ” Petty said. “So, I don’t know if I’m 80 or 70 or 50. Basically, physically … I don’t hurt nowhere right now. … I don’t feel like I feel any different than 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago.”

Still a constant presence on the Cup circuit, the seven-time NASCAR champion can be seen in the garage and pits in his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses serving in his roles of team owner and NASCAR ambassador.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

“That is part of it,” Petty said. “If you own the team and you’re not interested in going to see what happens, that can’t be good morale for the team. I go because I want to go, too. I enjoy being around and watching all the stuff. You go in there and try to give them … they don’t listen to what I want them to do. At least give them support, ‘You guys can do this, you can, just keep working at it.’ It’s a confidence-builder for them to know I pay the bills, but I’m also interested in what comes out in the end.”

Photo by Daniel McFadin

Three months from celebrating his 80th birthday (on July 2), Petty is able to see his family’s story documented in the Hall of Fame’s “Petty: Building a Family Legacy” exhibit, which runs until July.

But according to NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty, his father wouldn’t have made it this far if not for fulfilling his desire to keep tabs on Richard Petty Motorsports and NASCAR.

“My sisters and I have talked about it,” Kyle Petty said. “If it wasn’t for racing, he wouldn’t make it to 80. … Because he would just sit down and stop. He wouldn’t have anything to do.

“If it wasn’t for racing people and being able to walk through that garage and talk to people, yeah, he wouldn’t have made it this far.”

His father agrees.

“Mentally, I couldn’t do it,” Richard Petty said. “I’m a strong believer in mind over matter. You do what your mind tells you to do, whether your body wants to do it or whatever. I think that’s what kept me going from that standpoint.”

If not for racing, the Petty family’s trajectory might not have taken them far from Level Cross, North Carolina, where Lee and Elizabeth Petty raised their family. Richard and Kyle attended the same school in Randleman. The small student body meant Richard was one of 13 or 14 members of the football team and a performer in the marching band that played at halftime.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

This part of “The King’s” life is touched on in the Hall of Fame exhibit by his trumpet.

But it was the music provided by stock-car engines that fueled the Pettys.

“We lived on a dirt road and all the guys around us were the same way,” Richard Petty said. “They had nothing. So I didn’t know that until dad started racing. We’d go to Greensboro, we’d go to Martinsville or we’d go to Philadelphia. They had indoor plumbing, this is great. We grew up in that era. So that made you appreciate all the stuff going on. … Racing was all I ever knew. We raised a garden, so I knew how to raise a garden, but I didn’t know how to farm. I didn’t know how to be in the lumber business like my granddaddy was. I didn’t want to be in the liquor business.”

Because the Pettys pursued racing instead of farming – and liquor – the Buick Regal driven by Richard Petty to his seventh and final Daytona 500 win in 1981 sits next to a replica of the 1959 Oldsmobile Lee Petty drove in his own Hall of Fame career.

Not far away is the No. 42 Pontiac Grand Prix Kyle Petty drove to one of his eight Cup wins. Next to it is a No. 45 Monte Carlo Kyle’s son Adam drove in his tragically brief career.

Display cases show letters, typewriters, pictures, trophies and oddities that make up the Petty story.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

Not many athletes, in auto racing or any sport, can say the end of their career was honored by a comic book.

The exhibit chronicles the family dynasty and its many contributors, from Richard’s brother and engine builder, Maurice Petty, to his cousin and crew chief, Dale Inman, and his late wife, Lynda.

What does Richard Petty hope today’s generation of drivers can learn from the family oriented exhibit and the Hall of Fame as whole?

“I would like for the next generations coming in to go back and appreciate what Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Lee Petty and Fireball Roberts did,” he said. “Because if it hadn’t been for them, they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. I hope they don’t get away from who built the fan base. I was just part of the foundation. … It took all of us to do it. I hope that they don’t think they’re the ones making it happen.”

But Richard Petty still is helping to build the sport, 25 years after he last took a checkered flag.

Don’t expect him to ever hold a news conference in Daytona announcing he’s stepping away from the sport full time.

“That would go over like a lead balloon,” he said. “I don’t want to start a new life. I’ve been going to races for 68 years since 1949. I don’t know I wouldn’t cut back on going to all the races. But I’m still interested in being nosy enough to know who’s doing what.”

Stats, Results for Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It’s his second win in two weeks.

Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.

Click here for race results.

Johnny Sauter keeps Truck points lead, John Hunter Nemechek in eighth

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With his Stage 2 win and his second-place finish in the M&M’s 200, Johnny Sauter retains his lead in the Camping World Truck Series standings leaving Iowa Speedway.

Sauter has a 42-point lead over Christopher Bell.

Completing the top five is: Chase Briscoe (-76), Matt Crafton (-95) and Ben Rhodes (-123).

With his second win in two weeks, John Hunter Nemechek moved from ninth to eighth in the standings, 153 points back from Sauter.

Click here for the full points standings.

John Hunter Nemechek wins at Iowa, second Truck victory in a row

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At one point going four-wide on a restart with seven laps to go, John Hunter Nemechek drove from fourth to first to win the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It is Nemechek’s second Camping World Truck Series win in two weeks after an emotional victory at Gateway Motorsports Park. It is his fifth career win.

Nemechek passed low on Chase Briscoe and Johnny Sauter into Turn 1 and cleared them on the backstretch a lap into the final run. The No. 8 team changed four tires during the final caution. Sauter, who led 72 laps, did not pit.

“All year we felt really good about this whole stretch,” Nemechek told Fox Sports 1. “Gateway, Iowa and Kentucky. Hopefully we can go to Kentucky and make it three in a row.”

Driving the same truck he used to win last week, Nemehcek had to pass Sauter, Briscoe and Noah Gragson on the restart.

The top five was Nemechek, Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Enfinger and Christopher Bell.

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell

Stage 2 winner: Johnny Sauter

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Brandon Jones’s third-place finish is his season best and first Truck top five since 2015 … Christopher Bell earned his sixth top five through nine races … Grant Enfinger earned his fourth top five, but it came at the expense of teammate Matt Crafton, who he caused to crash to bring out the final caution … Jesse Little finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 11th start.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ben Rhodes, Kaz Grala and Austin Wayne Self were in a wreck with three laps left in Stage 2 …. Ryan Truex’s night ended with 33 to go when he brought his truck to pit road for an engine problem. He finished 20th … Matt Crafton backed hard into the outside wall with 15 laps to go after being tagged by his teammate, Grant Enfinger, on his left-rear quarter panel. It is his first DNF of the year. Crafton finished 19th … Harrison Burton and Justin Haley crashed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. Burton placed 11th; Haley 10th.

NOTABLE: The race was red flagged for 12 minutes and 26 seconds to clean up fluid from the three-truck crash at the end of Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “That’s me. Four tires. That’s the man right there. Fire Alarm (Services). What do they want? They want a win and we got them one.” – Gere Kennon, crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek after winning the M&M’s 200.

WHAT’S NEXT: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 6 on Fox Sports 1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell tour begins at Sonoma with service dogs named in his honor

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To commemorate Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s career and his final start at the track, Sonoma Raceway gave the driver a gift he doesn’t have to take home and will benefit others for year to come.

During his Friday press conference, the track surprised Earnhardt with three Labrador Retriever puppies. Named “Dale,” “Junior” and “Amy” – after his wife – the puppies are being given to the organization Paws as Loving Support (PALS) Assistance Dogs.

Donated by Micons Labradors and Fieldstone Labradors and sponsored by the track, the puppies will be trained to help children with disabilities in the Sonoma community.

“I’d like to thank the track for their investment to make this happen,” Earnhardt said. “It really warms my heart. Amy is going to be excited but sad she is not here. We do love dogs and making a difference in people’s lives. I’m excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing.”

Sonoma is the first track Earnhardt is racing at for the last time since he announced his retirement plans in April.

The puppies will take part in PALS thorough training process, including time with incarcerated youth twice a week, before being matched with a child with a disability and his/her family as a service dog or placed with a professional as a facility dog.

PALS Assistance Dogs trains dogs to help children with disabilities including Autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments. Some are placed with professionals working with children with special needs as facility dogs. In addition, Courthouse PALS dogs provide emotional support and comfort to victims and witnesses of violent crimes before, during and at the conclusion of a trial.

“Dale has such a huge following among our fans and we wanted to find a way for his legacy to carry forward locally, well beyond his days as a driver,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. “These three puppies – Dale, Junior and Amy – will make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people in the North Bay for years to come.”

On race day, 10,000 “Thanks, Junior” hand-held fans will be given out and the No. 88 will be written in the sky by the Patriots Jet Team.

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