Richard Lee Petty was born on July 2,1937, in Randleman, NC, the son of Lee Petty. Lee was one of stock-car racings early pioneers who won three Grand National championships in the '50s. Lee held the record for most victories, 54 , until his son broke it.
Richard started out as a mechanic for his father because his father refused to let him race until he was a legal adult. So days after Richard turned 21, he drove to a sixth place finish in his first race. During his next eight races Richard failed to finish any of them.
Richard's thought he had his first win when he took the checkered flag but as he was heading to victory lane another driver protested the race, saying the checkered flag was waved on the wrong lap. Richard did not get the win, instead the driver who protested was awarded the win, that driver was Lee Petty.
It was 1959 and the inaugural running of the Daytona 500, which was won by Lee Petty. Richard watched from the pit area as his father took the checkered flag, because Richard blew his engine. Richard went on to claim Rookie of the Year and in 1960 he finished second in the points to Rex White.
In 1964 Richard became unhappy with the sport because other drivers were saying that his engines were bigger and they protested. Richard spent 1965 competing as a drag racer. His career there was cut short when he crashed his car at a race in Georgia, killing an eight year old boy.
Returning to his roots, Petty made a comeback in NASCAR during the '66 season by winning the Daytona 500 and becoming the first driver to win it twice. In 1967, Petty won 27 of the 48 races and had a string of ten wins in a row. He finished in the top five in eleven other races to earn his second Grand National championship.
Richard passed his fathers record of 54 wins in only his eighth season. Petty never had much competition until David Pearson emerged upon the race tracks. Between 1963 and 1977, Petty and Pearson finished one-two sixty three times and Pearson held the edge 33-30.
It didn't matter what Petty drove, he could win in any car. During the '70s Petty racked up five Winston Cup championships and four Daytona 500's. His fifth Daytona eluded him in 1976 when he and Pearson made contact on the last lap and Pearson went on to win.
Richard's son Kyle is running the circuit now but is still dealing with the loss of his son Adam, who was killed in a crash in 2000. Petty Enterprises is struggling with the new Dodges but they will be a presence in NASCAR for years to come, watch and see.