At 85, Richard Petty’s long ride continues

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RANDLEMAN, N.C. — Mario Andretti remembers racing behind Richard Petty in the 1967 Daytona 500, which Andretti won.

“I remember one time him being very loose in front of me and catching the car,” Andretti said. “I thought, ‘That was a really good catch.’ ”

That was 55 years ago. Andretti was 26, Petty 29. They were near the start of auto racing careers that would make them wealthy, internationally famous and iconic in the eyes of millions of fans and their peers.

Andretti now is 82. On Saturday, Petty will be 85.

A.J. Foyt is 87. Bobby Allison 84. Cale Yarborough 83.

Racing’s Old Guard now is an Even Older Guard. To imagine decades ago that all of them would reach their 80s would be to defy good sense. All cheated death on many occasions, and their hard-charging, fuel-soaked, inches-from-disaster lifestyles weren’t the kind that typically lead to long residencies on Earth.

Yet, not only are many octogenarian former racers still moving above ground, but some also remain key pieces in the ever-changing, personality-driven, high-wire world of auto racing.

Petty clearly stands among – and above most – of them. He hasn’t driven a race car in anger since the 1992 season, but a typical NASCAR weekend will find him in the garage area, signing autographs, meeting old friends, sharing the same stories with others who were there in stock car racing’s growing years.

He remains part owner of a race team (Petty GMS Motorsports), but his role at tracks generally is that of ambassador and friend, a devoted racer who stepped inside a race track as a young child and never left.

Eighty-five, to Richard Petty, is just another number. Like the number 43 on the front of the Level Cross Fire Department (Station 43) near the Petty shop, honoring the race car number Petty drove through most of his glory years.

“Racing and being at a race track and being around race people is who Richard Petty is,” said his son, Kyle Petty, also a retired driver. “If you took all of that away from him, I’m sure there’s no doubt he would have sat down in a chair and passed away. But he just had the driving part taken away. It took him a while to deal with that, but once he did, he’s still Richard Petty. That’s who he is and what he does.

“Racing was his single focus. All he’s ever wanted to do.”


Although most top-level drivers are obsessively devoted to racing, most also have other interests. Golf, maybe, or fishing. Restoring old cars. Operating businesses that have little or nothing to do with racing.

For Petty, nothing else has mattered.

“All he’s ever done his whole life besides go to school and high school is be around racing,” Kyle said. “Same with all the other Pettys – my grandfather (Lee Petty), my uncle Maurice. None of them had any hobbies. I’m the anomaly of the group. All I had was hobbies. They had none.”

Those who thought Richard might move away from the sport after his driving career ended were quite surprised. He remained in team ownership and rarely missed more than a few races per season until the pandemic forced him to stay home.

“That was the hardest two years ever on him,” Kyle said.

Andretti’s post-driving life has been much the same. He has remained involved in the Andretti family’s various racing pursuits, attends virtually every IndyCar race and continues to make appearances for sponsors.

“My passion for the sport never vanished in any way,” Andretti said. “The fact that we have family continuing and being part of it gives me even more reason to stay close to it. That will be for the rest of my days. It’s our life.

“I imagine Richard thinks the same way. There have been battles but great battles with great memories. I only remember the positive things. That’s what keeps me going. I keep loving what has been the most important part of my professional life.”

Petty’s weekly schedule has returned to what it was prior to the pandemic. He typically visits the team shop in Statesville, North Carolina, on Tuesday, makes sponsor or charity appearances during the week, spends time at the Petty Museum in Randleman signing hundreds of autographs and travels to the Cup race site during the weekend.

AUTO: APR 17 NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race
Richard Petty remains a frequent presence at NASCAR Cup Series tracks, such as for the April 17 dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway (Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“I don’t really have to do anything, but to keep things going for the garage (Petty’s Garage, which deals in high-performance parts and vehicle restorations), for the museum, for Victory Junction (the children’s camp the Petty family runs) and for the race team, I obligate myself to do things,” Petty said.

“As far as turning 85, it’s just another number. The way I look, the way I act, the way I dress – it’s all the same as it was 15 or 20 years ago. What you see is what you get. In my mind, I haven’t changed. My personality, what I do, where I go – it hasn’t changed much. I don’t think I’ve changed, but obviously I have.

“I feel as good as I did 10 years ago. I can’t see as good or hear as good, but that change has been gradual so you just adjust to it.”


“What you see” with Richard Petty is a man in a cowboy hat and sunglasses, a shirt sprinkled with sponsor names, well-worn jeans and cowboy boots. It’s an image that will forever shout RICHARD PETTY, one that emblazons all manner of souvenir items still popular with fans.

And the autograph. Petty has signed his looping signature millions of times across the years, and people still covet it, even kids who have no concept of this man in the cowboy hat. On a recent Wednesday, he sat in his office and signed more than 1,000 items for distribution at a future event. The daily mail, even 30 years after Petty drove a race car for the final time, typically brings from 20 to 100 requests for that autograph.

Darrell Waltrip, who left driving in 2000 and almost immediately moved into television with Fox Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts, took a different track from that walked by Petty. Waltrip worked in racing television but said he rarely “hangs out” at races now because so many of the people he raced for, with and against are no longer in garage areas. But, he said, he understands Petty’s situation.

“This is all he knows,” Waltrip said. “He knows racing. I just always felt like no matter who you are or what you do, stick to what you know. And he’s still the King. I guess he’ll be the King until the day he dies, and there will never be another King. He’s got 200 wins, so many things he has that nobody else has. That’s what helped his longevity. He’s King Richard. He’s an icon.”

NASCAR Cup Series Goodyear 400
Richard Petty shares a laugh with a NASCAR official before Petty waved the green flag for the May 8 race at Darlington Raceway (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images).

Continuing on the long road that has been Petty’s life is his cousin and former crew chief Dale Inman. Inman, almost a year older than Petty, is as close to being Richard’s brother as a cousin can be. They traveled together through their competition careers, wound up in the NASCAR Hall of Fame together, and now that ride continues.

Virtually everywhere Petty goes, Inman tags along. It’s the ultimate long-running buddy trip. The King drives, by the way, as he always has.

“As we were growing up, a 50-year-old man was an old man,” Inman said. “The trends of time change all that. We’re older, but we’re still out there. It keeps both of us going. I’ve been with him all over the planet, and it’s still amazing how he’s recognized with that hat and sunglasses.

“The track promoters, the sponsors, team owners – they still want him around because he draws attention wherever he goes. He enjoys going to the races. He wants to be around the people.”


Petty’s health is good considering his age and the gauntlet he pushed his body through over the racing years. He has broken his neck twice, broken most of the bones in his body, lost 40 percent of his stomach to ulcers and overcame prostate cancer. He has a checkup by a raft of doctors every year, and Petty says they tell him he’s physically 10 years younger than his age.

“I picked him up from the hospital after the prostate surgery, and he had to stop and get ice cream,” Inman said. “He tells people he had two ulcers and they had names – Lynda and Dale.”

Lynda. Petty’s wife and a bright light in garage areas and victory lanes across the Petty championship years and beyond. Known as the First Lady of racing, she died in 2014 after a long struggle with cancer.

The Petty family had lost its center.

The weeks that followed were low moments for Richard, who, when Lynda’s diagnosis was revealed to the public, asked media members in an emotional press conference at Daytona International Speedway, to “pray for Lynda.”

After her death, Petty retreated from a life that always had been very public.

“I got back in a Richard Petty shell,” he said. “I didn’t go anywhere. I wasn’t interested in anything. My daughters all came in one day and said, ‘Daddy, you have to get your butt up and do something. You can’t sit here for the rest of your life.’ ”

Petty soon returned to being The King, the very public figure his fans expected. Eventually, a new woman came into his life. He describes Ellen Hill, who grew up in the same area as the Pettys, as his companion.

“Ellen had been on trips with Lynda when Lynda was involved with the 4-H Club and the Girl Scouts and such, but I didn’t really know her,” Petty said. “She came up at church one day and introduced herself. We got to be friends. My girls knew her. They’re upside-down, anyway, but not as much as if I’d gone out and got a girlfriend somewhere else. They’re still trying to protect Daddy, but they know her.

“Ellen lives a life. I live a life. She lives in her house. I live in mine. But we do things together. It entertains me and her both.”

Racing has been everything to Petty, but it also has hit him in the heart. Randy Owens, Lynda’s brother, died in 1975 in a pit-road accident at Talladega Superspeedway (a track Petty generally avoids because of that incident). And then in 2000 there was the death of Adam Petty, Richard’s grandson and the bright and shining star of the Petty clan. The fourth generation of drivers in the family, Adam was killed during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He was only 19.

AUTO: JUN 03 NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 Presented by TicketSmarter
Richard Petty pauses before taking the inaugural lap before NASCAR Cup Series practice June 3 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois (Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“That was probably the lowest point of my life,” Petty said. “I didn’t leave the house for five or six days. I’d get up in the morning and just sit there. My world quit. Then I got a letter from a lady I didn’t even know. She said, ‘Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.’ That brought me back to the real world. Before that, I was blaming myself for Adam’s death because if I hadn’t been in racing Adam wouldn’t have. She lifted a burden off me.”

As a tribute to Adam, the Petty family built the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which serves children with chronic illnesses.

“The camp came out of that, so his life was worth something,” Petty said. “Thousands of kids have gained from that camp. It was what he wanted.”

So, at 85, Petty rolls on. He has obligations to meet, hands to shake, photos to autograph. His days are much like they were at 65 and 75. For the King, the road seemingly goes on forever.

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”

Brennan Poole joins Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for 2023

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Brennan Poole will join Bayley Currey at JD Motorsports for the 2023 NASCAR Xfinity season, the team announced Friday.

Poole will drive the No. 6 car for the full season. Currey returns to the team’s No. 4 car for the season. Currey scored five top-15 finishes last season for the organization.

JD Motorsports is planning to run the No. 0 car next season. No driver or sponsor has been announced for that ride.

“We’re full throttle here and getting ready to go,” Davis said in a statement from the team. “Bayley and Brennan are signed on and looking forward to chasing races and points next year. We’re actively moving along looking for sponsor commitments and for drivers and sponsors for the No. 0 car.”

“We’ve always taken the approach here that we want to go after the series with multiple cars, and that’s how we’re looking toward 2023. The new schedule is very interesting and provides new challenges to our drivers and team members.”

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

Friday 5: Will Kyle Busch become NASCAR’s Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The weight of an unfulfilled season, deciding where he’d race in 2023 and the impact on his Truck Series team are off Kyle Busch.

It’s back to racing for the two-time Cup champion, who seeks to reignite his career at Richard Childress Racing this season.

Busch performed his final duty representing Joe Gibbs Racing at Thursday’s NASCAR Awards (show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock) and it’s now all about helping RCR win its first Cup championship since 1994.

MORE: NASCAR Awards red carpet scene

Busch will be with Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Circuit of the Americas for World Racing League endurance events. Busch said the team has turned an old Cup car into an endurance car for the event. Last year, RCR won an eight-hour endurance race there with Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Kaz Grala.

Busch seeks better fortunes at RCR than what he’s had recently at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He has one Cup win in his last 53 starts — 14 drivers have won more races than Busch in that span, dating back to the July 2021 race at Road America.

His 17 top-10 finishes this past season were his fewest since scoring 16 top 10s in 2015. 

He was running at the finish in 29 of 36 points races — the first time he’s been running at the finish in fewer than 30 races since 2015. Two blown engines in the opening round of the playoffs led to failing to advance to the second round for the first time in his career. 

“It’s obviously been a challenging, not just this year, but the last little while,” Busch said Thursday at the Music City Center. “So, it’s kind of maybe a blessing in disguise, honestly, where it might just be time for a fresh start, time for something new, time for something different.”

He looks to future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Peyton Manning for inspiration.

Brady won six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots before  joining Tampa Bay and winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Buccaneers.

Manning won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts before joining the Denver Broncos and winning a Super Bowl there in his final season in the NFL.

“I’m kind of looking at it as a Tom Brady, Peyton Manning aspect where they left great teams, great organizations where they won championships and they were able to win a championship somewhere else,” Busch said. “I’d like to think I still have that opportunity to be able to do that at RCR.

“I look at the opportunity with the new Next Gen race car as an easier move to make now with that vs. years past with previous generation cars.”

He says that because with the previous generation of cars, there was a greater separation between teams because NASCAR did not regulate as much of the car. With the the Next Gen car, teams have the same parts. Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano that his team still has much to learn about the car and maximizing setups. 

Even with his struggles at the end of his tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch says he doesn’t go to RCR with a chip on his shoulder. 

“I don’t think I have anything to prove or I need to have a chip on my shoulder,” Busch said. “I just want to go out there and run well again. … I felt like we had a lot of strong runs this year. There were like six races I can count that we could’ve, would’ve, should’ve won and we didn’t whip is very frustrating. 

“We were so good at giving them away that I need to get back to I’m so good at stealing them and earning them.”

2. Special delivery 

Among the perks with winning a Cup title is getting the Champion’s Journal. Jimmie Johnson started the tradition after his 2010 championship. The existence of the journal remained a secret until 2017 when Johnson posted a picture on social media of him handing the journal to Martin Truex Jr.

The journal passes from champion to champion with the current champion holding on to it for a year and adding an entry for the next champion before handing it to them. Logano will receive the journal from Kyle Larson. 

“I can’t wait to read it again,” Logano said before Thursday’s NASCAR Awards. “I’m telling you, it’s probably one of the coolest things. Jimmie deserves all of the credit for coming up with the idea. 

“I wish it started sooner. It’s so interesting. Some drivers are very detailed what they write to the next champion and some are kind of quick and simple. It’s very interesting to read it. It’s cool. It’s a real secret. It’s kind of like an unwritten rule, you can’t take pictures of it and post it. It’s a thing that only the championship drivers know and have read and seen.

“Every time I get it, I’m so nervous. I’m like don’t spill anything on this thing, don’t lose it. It would suck to be the guy that loses that. That would be bad. I’m putting it right in the safe.”

Logano won his first Cup title in 2018. He then gave the journal to Kyle Busch, the 2019 series champion.

“It’s something you put a lot of thought into, at least I did,” Logano said of what he penned. “I wrote a letter to Kyle. You put a lot of thought into it. It’s something that will be there as long as our sport is around. I hope so at least. It’s a really great tradition.”

3. Fun factor 

The day of last year’s NASCAR Awards, William Byron said he wanted compete in more races outside NASCAR in 2022. 

Byron, who seeks to make Sunday’s prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race, has fulfilled his goal, winning, gaining confidence but also having fun.

“What I got out of it was immediate fun, sort of relief,” Byron said of racing various Super Late Model races this year. “It was not racing the Cup car. It was different. It was not as stressful working with the team and things like that because there’s not as much on the line. There’s still prize money and things, and honestly you’re there to have fun. I enjoyed that.

“As I got going in it, I realized how productive it really was for me to do it, how much I was learning. As I did it more often throughout the season, I learned little nuances that were helping me get back in the Cup car with a better skill set.”

That element of fun stood out to Byron. Cup racing is full of pressure with the multi-million dollar sponsors, expectations to win and all the people at the shop relying on the car’s performance. That’s significant pressure, on top of what any driver puts on themself.

“There’s a lot of guys that you are trying to provide for and do a good job for,” Byron said of Cup racing. “There is a weight to that. You want to perform for those guys that work non-stop at the shop. There’s just a much broader net that you are casting as a driver. Whenever you go to the short track level, it’s you and six to 10 guys working on the car. … There’s natural pressure with what we’re trying to do at the Cup level because it is the No. 1 motorsports in the U.S.”

4. Looking for a ride

Ross Chastain says he’s been “trying for years” to get a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway without success but that hasn’t deterred him.

“I’ve met with the president of IMSA,” said Chastain, who finished second to Joey Logano for the Cup title this season. “I’ve met with team owners. I’ve talked to drivers. I just can’t find my way in yet. I haven’t found the right person yet to either tell me how to do it or give me the opportunity. I could show up with sponsorship and get a ride, but how do I get in as a race car driver? I haven’t found that spot yet.”

Chastain said he’s reached out to some this offseason with no luck. 

He said the prestige of the season-opening IMSA event (Jan. 28-29, 2023) draws him but he also wants to gain more experience racing on a road course — even with his win at Circuit of the Americas this past season. And Chastain is not picky on the type of ride he’d like to have for that race.

“I’m not even looking to be in the top class. I want to find a mid-pack Xfinity team of the Rolex and go run there and experience it and then just to be around those road racers that do it year around. I know I could learn something. … I just want to race.”

5. Indy 500-Coke 600 double

It has been eight years since Kurt Busch competed in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, the last time the feat has been accomplished. 

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson are among those who have expressed interest in running both races in the same day but don’t appear to be in a position to do so in 2023 because of the limited IndyCar rides available. 

Roger Penske, owner of the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said he could see Jimmie Johnson attempting it this year, and others as soon as next year. 

“It’s about having the car and the manufactures, whether it’s Chevy and or Honda,” Penske said, referring to the IndyCar manufacturers. “All would be interested to see somebody run the double. Maybe Jimmie is going to do it, which would be great. 

“He has the experience. He did very well on the ovals. … It’s my understanding that he’s going to run potentially the 600 as one of his races (with Petty GMS). We’ll see.”