Racing Without a Petty: NASCAR Racing Without Its Royal Family

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IMay 15, 2009

8 Apr 2000:  A close up of Adam Petty who drives for Team Sprint Chevrolet as he smiles and looks on during the Bell South Mobility 320 at the Nashville Speedway USA in Nashville, Tennessee. Mandatory Credit: Robert Laberge  /Allsport

One look at the picture and you will instantly recognize it as that of the late Adam Petty, whose life was tragically cut short in a practice crash at the New Hampshire International Speedway on May 12, 2000.

The son of Kyle and Pattie Petty, Adam looked to be the next in the line of the great Petty racing dynasty, one that competed in NASCAR for virtually the sport's existence.

In the NFL, you have the Manning family. In the MLB ranks, you have the Griffey family. The open wheel ranks are the home of the Andretti and Unser clans.

For stock car enthusiasts, the Petty name is synonymous as the sport and its history, with nearly every NASCAR memory associated with this family from High Point, NC.

But something is different in the air in 2009. In case you may have not noticed, there has not been a Petty in the racing fields in any of the NASCAR top three racing tiers.

Sure, "King" Richard still struts along the garage area, but almost as an ambassador and icon for his eponymous team, and Kyle does television commentary on Speed TV.

However, in the garage area, much less, on the track, none of the cars on the track are piloted by a Petty.

As a fan, I do wonder what the sport's complexion would be like if Adam were still here, racing in the high banks of Lowe's Motor Speedway or on the winding turns of Infineon Raceway.

Some racing fans and scouts believed that the fourth-generation driver had the potential to have the prowess his famous grandfather had during his illustrious 43-year career.

Others believed he just needed some additional years to harness his potential into one with polished driving tactics and the calculative skills to make his own mark in the sport.

Sadly, the mark that Adam Petty left in his brief life as a driver was on that tragic Friday on May 12 of 2000. There are stories that the young man was jubilant and in a giddy mood that week, as sister Montgomery Lee had cut his hair.

Petty's 2000 Nationwide season was turning the corner for the good, and the 19-year-old made his debut in the Cup ranks, running a spirited race at Texas until his motor expired in his No. 45 Sprint Chevrolet.

His father Kyle pressed on for seven painful years behind his late son's car, urging his machines around the track to keep the spirit and essence of Adam around on the track across America.

Though the No. 45 is no longer a fixture on the circuit and the original Petty team dissolved last year to become Richard Petty Motorsports, which is really the Gillette Evernham team, the presence of Adam can still be felt in some ways.

The Victory Junction Gang Camp opened in the summer of 2004 in honor of Adam, a charity group that the young man had planned to pursue in catering to children with terminal ailments or chronic illnesses.

A bit of Adam is at the camp, from the likeness of his No. 45 car at the facility, to all his values and love for the people around him being felt with the children at the hospitable location.

It strikes me to realize that I outlived a driver who I can honestly say was one of my heroes, even if he was just an up and coming driver.

Sure, you could say his last name had some help in his rise to the top.

That is not to say that Adam Petty did not work hard and diligently in his efforts to reach the Cup series.

He competed in the American Speed Association in 1998 with a win at I-70 Speedway in Missouri and gained national attention later that year with his Automobile Racing Club of America victory at Lowe's Motor Speedway in the EasyCare 100.

Adam looked like he was on his way to become the next great Petty. But his racing dreams were dashed and cut short.

I realized as this Tuesday passed by that it marked the nine-year anniversary of Adam Petty's tragedy at a track that was nearby me in neighboring New Hampshire.

In one of those moments where you can be asked, "Where were you?", I could honestly say that I came home from school, tuned into ESPN 2 as I had usually done to read the ticker and then came the news that had me literally standing still for hours.

It was devastating. I felt like all the happiness I had that day was gone by just reading the ticker of Adam Petty's death.

Days later, I wondered how the Petty family held up. And to this day, I wonder how they hold it together individually and as a family.

While fans may dig on Kyle Petty not having a truly successful Cup career, you have to admire the perseverance of this 49-year-old man who keeps his son's legacy alive through his commentary and his duties tending to the VJGC in North Carolina and soon to open in Kansas.

You have to wonder how little brother Austin, who now is in his early 20s, and sister Montgomery Lee, who is now married, carried on without their cheerful older brother who had that patented Petty smile.

Or how his mother Pattie even had the strength to go to the track, including the one that took her son's life away.

For older fans, the tragic deaths of '92 Cup titlist Alan Kulwicki and superstar racer Davey Allison resonate loudly. The sport lost two of its greatest and most fiercest competitors in 1993.

But for me, the death of Petty still shocks me after all these years.

Unfortunately, I never got to meet him nor did I truly reflect on his accomplishments until the tragic accident in Loudon, N.H.

Racing has never been the same without Adam Petty or a Petty on the track in 2009.

In a time when money may be hard to come by, if not a donation to the Victory Junction Gang Camp, keep the Petty family in your hearts and mind as this week comes to a close.

While the festivities of the All-Star Race will garner attention, I hope you will at least take the time to remember this young man, whose racing dreams were dashed, but whose heart still remains in our world with his unselfishness and care to those who may not have it all made in life.

God speed to the Petty family!


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