Work in Sports
NASCAR loses beloved young star in Adam Petty
Posted: Friday July 07, 2000 02:33 PM
LOUDON, N.H. (CNNSI.com) -- There was nothing Adam Petty wanted more than to be a NASCAR Winston Cup driver.
Petty achieved his dream last month when he became the first fourth-generation driver in Winston Cup history. But 40 days after that historic start, Adam Petty is gone.
Petty died after a crash Friday during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.
The 19-year-old driver was taken to Concord Hospital, where he died of head trauma, spokeswoman Jennifer Dearborn said.
Petty crashed during practice for Friday's qualifying for Saturday's Busch 200 on the 1.058-mile oval.
His car appeared to brush the wall in Turn 3, spun out, and then crashed into the wall. The car did not catch fire, but he was trapped inside for about 20 minutes before crew and rescue workers freed him.
"I knew it was a hard hit," said spectator David Henderson of Manchester, who was at a nearby concession stand. "At first, everybody thought it was just a crash. Then it was like the whole place went silent."
Andrew Watson, another fan, had tears in his eyes after learning the crash was fatal.
"There's no way this was his fault," said Watson, who said he knew Petty. "He was a nice guy, a real nice guy. He was just following in his family's footsteps."
Petty is the grandson of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty and the son of Kyle Petty, a regular on the Winston Cup circuit. Adam's great-grandfather was Lee Petty, one of the pioneers of NASCAR.
"The whole family is sad right now, that's all I can say," said a man who answered the phone at Richard Petty's home in Level Cross, N.C. He identified himself as a family friend and said the family was at the nearby home of Kyle Petty.
Adam's Petty's death was the first on-track fatality in NASCAR since John Nemechek was killed in a Craftsman Truck Series race in Homestead, Fla., in 1997.
"It is difficult to express our sadness over the passing of Adam Petty," NASCAR President Bill France Jr. said. "On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, we extend our hearts and prayers to his parents Kyle and Patty, his grandparents Richard and Lynda and the entire Petty family."
Lee Petty died April 5 at age 86 from complications of a stomach aneurysm several weeks after surgery. Adam Petty had made his Winston Cup debut just three days earlier in Fort Worth, Texas.
Lee Petty won 55 races, still seventh-best in NASCAR history, and three Grand National -- now Winston Cup -- championships. In 1959, he become the photo-finish winner of the first Daytona 500.
His son Richard became the king of stock car racing with a record 200 victories and seven championships.
Richard's son, Kyle, is in his 20th year as a Winston Cup regular, and has taken over the day-to-day business of running the family's team.
Adam Petty's entry into racing made the Petty Enterprises team the first with four generations of NASCAR drivers.
It was his second season as a Busch Series regular and he planned to drive in five Winston Cup races this season in preparation for a shot at the rookie title in 2001.
"I don't know what to say," Winston Cup driver Steve Park said. "Adam and I were joking around this morning right before practice and then to have this happen is unreal. Racing seems so unimportant right now."
"This is tragic. When I heard this I could not believe it," 1995 Busch Series champion Johnny Benson Jr. said. "To have someone so young and with such a bright future ahead of him die like this is a hard thing to swallow. Its so rare for this to happen in NASCAR because they have made the cars so safe in recent years. Sometimes you get lulled into thinking it can never happen."
Adam Petty first got serious notice in racing in September 1998 when he won the ARCA race in Charlotte, N.C., at age 18, becoming the youngest driver to win a race in that series. He also ran the full American Speed Association season that year.
He also is survived by his mother, Pattie, his grandmother, Lynda, and his great-grandmother, Elizabeth.
Petty's death was one of several involving NASCAR drivers in the last eight years. Clifford Allison's older brother, Davey, a Winston Cup star, was killed in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. A few months earlier, 1992 series champion Alan Kulwicki died in a plane crash in Tennessee.
Winston Cup driver Neil Bonnett was killed after crashing during practice for the 1994 Daytona 500.