At 85, Richard Petty’s long ride continues


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 penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)