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The Reign of King Richard
Richard Lee Petty was born on July 2, 1937 in Level Cross, North Carolina. His father, Lee Petty, was one of the pioneers of NASCAR racing, and the founder of Petty Enterprises, which became NASCAR’s most successful racing team. Lee Petty was an early star of NASCAR, winning three Grand National Championships (later known as the Winston Cup) as well as seven Most Popular Driver Awards.
Richard’s racing career began on July 12, 1958, in Columbia, South Carolina. He finished in sixth place in his debut race, and went on to take nine top-ten finishes in the 1959 season, earning the Rookie of the Year award. But, his career really took off in 1964 when he won his first Daytona 500. This was the beginning of his nine wins that year which lead to another first: the Grand National Championship title.
Petty set the first of what would be many career records in 1966 by winning his second Daytona 500. He became the first NASCAR driver to win the event twice. But that feat was dwarfed by his performance in the 1967 season. Richard Petty won the 1967 Grand National Championship, his second championship, on the back of twenty-seven wins, ten of which were consecutive. This earth shattering victory ensured his mark in the history of NASCAR, earning him the nickname “King Richard” amongst NASCAR fans.
He once again made history in 1971, becoming the first driver to win the Daytona 500 three times. He also achieved his third Championship win, with an impressive twenty-one total wins, and became the first NASCAR driver to reach career earnings in excess of one million dollars. His string of impressive NASCAR results continued, when he won the 1972 Championship the following year. 1973 brought his fourth Daytona 500 win, followed by his fifth Daytona win in 1974, as well as his fifth National Championship.
Richard Petty’s remarkable ability to set record after record was once again evident in the 1975 season, in which Petty won his sixth Championship (now called the Winston Cup Championship, a change that had been brought about only a few years earlier.) He went down in the record books once more with his thirteen wins that season, the most season wins in the modern era of NASCAR (1972 – Present.) This record still stands, tied only by Jeff Gordon in the 1998 season.
Richard Petty had one last record in him yet, winning his seventh, and what would prove to be his final, Winston Cup Championship in the 1979 season. This record also remains unbroken, tied only by Dale Earnhardt in 1994. Petty also earned his sixth Daytona 500 win in 1979, winning the first race in the history of NASCAR racing to be televised from start to finish.
As the 1980’s began, Richard Petty’s career began to decline. He achieved his seventh and final Daytona 500 win, due in part to a collision between the cars in first and second place, and the rules of the time concerning NASCAR crashes. On July 4, 1984, Richard Petty won the Firecracker 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, his 200th career win, which would also prove to be his final win. He did not retire until 1992, but he would not win any more NASCAR races. Ironically, Petty’s final race, the last race of the 1992 season, was also the Winston Cup debut of Jeff Gordon, who would later challenge Petty’s Modern Era season victory record.
Since retiring, Petty has remained active in the sport in the role of car owner. His son, Kyle Petty, is currently racing in the Nextel Cup, with eight career wins to date, racing for Petty Enterprises. Richard’s grandson, Adam Petty, had the beginnings of a promising career in NASCAR racing in the late 1990’s, but a tragic accident during a practice session at the New Hampshire International Speedway took Adam’s life on May 12, 2000. This was one of the NASCAR crashes that influenced several changes in the NASCAR safety policies that were seen in the first few years of the new century.
Although he is no longer on the track, Richard Petty’s legacy continues on. His son carries on his name, and Petty Enterprises continues to be a successful NASCAR team. But more importantly, Richard Petty will remain in the hearts of NASCAR fans forever. Even though he no longer sits atop the racing world, he will always be King Richard.
Article Source: http://www.redsofts.com/articles/
David Stargel publishes several NASCAR related websites in addition to writing about all sorts of NASCAR related topics.
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