Work in Sports
SI Flashback: Championship Bloodline
Adam Petty was King for a Day in Charlotte
By Ed Hinton
Issue date: October 12, 1998
Lee Petty begat Richard, who begat Kyle, who begat Adam, who's on track to become the first fourth-generation NASCAR driver. In the wake of 18-year-old Adam's first superspeedway win, a 100-mile Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sept. 30, Kyle opined that the Pettys' championship bloodline may have skipped a generation. "My son," says Kyle, who hasn't matched Richard's and Lee's success, "can be what my father was."
Lee, one of NASCAR's pioneer drivers, won 54 races and three championships. Richard was dubbed King for winning 200 races and seven championships, both records, before retiring in 1992. But the free-spirited Kyle has won only eight races in a 19-year NASCAR career that began when he was 18. "Adam has more desire than Kyle ever had," says Richard. "When Kyle came along, he wanted to drive a race car, but he also wanted to ride his motorcycles, play his guitars, get married the first thing -- all sorts of stuff. Adam is really, really focused."
Adam also is dealing with a racing tragedy similar to one that haunts his grandfather. His crew chief, Chris Bradley, was crushed underneath Adam's car during a pit stop in an American Speed Association (ASA) race last month outside St. Paul. Bradley died of internal injuries while undergoing surgery.
"Chris didn't tell Adam or anyone else in the crew that he was going under the car to make an adjustment," says Richard. "The routine is, when the new tires are on, the jackman lets the car down. It's Adam's job to take off when the car comes off the jack. That's what he did. He didn't have any idea anybody was under the car. He thought he'd run over a tire or an air wrench, until they stopped the race."
"I've been torn up for the past several weeks," Adam said after his victory in Charlotte. "When I got home [to the Petty compound near Randleman, N.C.] from Minnesota, I was devastated. The first person to meet me was my grandfather, telling me he'd gone through the same thing many years before."
In 1965, when Richard was participating in a Chrysler boycott of NASCAR in a dispute over engine specifications, he competed briefly in drag racing. At a strip in Dallas, Ga., his dragster went out of control and into the crowd, killing an eight-year-old boy.
"Just before Chris died," says Adam, "an ASA chaplain told me, 'This will either make you or break you.' I think it has made me. When I went to Minnesota, I was still halfway a boy, but I had to grow up that day."
Adam, who began racing in go-karts at six and had one stock car victory before the win at Charlotte, plans to drive in this Saturday's ARCA race at Talladega and in three Busch Grand National races later this season. Next year he'll move toward full-time Busch-series racing to prepare for the elite Winston Cup series that made his family famous.
Recently at Richard's house, says Kyle, "Daddy and Adam were walking together in the backyard, talking. As I looked out the window at them, I told my mother, 'Richard Petty's finally got the son he never had.'"
Issue date: October 12, 1998