There is no race NASCAR in which the man is not present. And that, quietly, he could be on his ranch enjoying his family. But Richard Lee Petty he cannot detach himself from the sport that marked his life. Impossible to do so after having grown up in an environment where race cars were the subject of daily conversation. Impossible to do it being the son of Lee Arnold Petty, who also shone in the category in which he would later make history himself.
For American motorsports, Richard Petty is a living glory. Not only because of the number of records he still has in the popular Yankee category, but also because of the feats that marked his sports campaign.
Some of them even became inspiring of the hit movie Cars, of which he was also a great protagonist. Because that blue Plymouth Superbird with the shark's trunk that had the number 43, and that Lightning McQueen had so much respect for, he personified Petty himself ...
This man born on July 2, 1937 in Level Cross also gave his voice to the character of El Rey, a nickname he earned in 1967 when he won 27 of the 48 races (ten of those victories were consecutive). That year he won his second title at the then Grand National - as NASCAR was known until 1972 - and forever left the nickname of Randleman's Rocket, inspired by its speed and the locality in which the Petty Enterprise (the team his father founded in 1949).
Petty started racing at 21. His debut was in the 500 Jim Mideon 1958. He retired in the 500 Hooters 1992 in Atlanta. With a few exceptions, he always remained faithful to Chrysler using the Plymouth or Dodge brands (in 1978 he switched to Chevrolet and that caused great disappointment in his fans).
In total he played 1.185 races, won 200 (record), scored 126 poles and was in the Top Ten 712 times. He was champion seven times. Much of his fame was made in the Daytona 500, the most important race in NASCAR and which had its first edition in 1959 with the victory of his father. The King started his personal account five years later, in 1964. That triumph was followed by those of 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979 and 1981.
Among so many feats achieved in more than three decades of campaign, there are some that served to increase the myth. Perhaps the most memorable occurred at the 500 Daytona 1976, when he starred in a fierce duel for the win with David Pearson.
Petty, with his Dodge sponsored by the oil company STP, had been leading the race with a slight difference over Pearson. They had both passed the last corner when they brushed against each other. At the touch, they lost control of their cars and both collided just 18 meters from the finish line.
Petty's engine died, while Pearson managed to keep his running by fully depressing the clutch pedal. Thanks to that, the driver of the number 21 Mercury won with his wrecked car and received the checkered flag at a speed of 40 km / h. Petty still made the podium: he came in second place, after being pushed by his mechanics.
This episode inspired the ending of the movie Cars, in which Lightning McQueen helps El Rey cross the finish line after an accident in the race that defined the champion of the Piston Cup, which finally fell into the hands of the cheater Chick Hicks ...
Three years later, also at the Daytona 500, El Rey achieved another milestone: He prevailed in the first live televised race from start to finish. In that edition Donnie allison y Cale Yarborough they crashed on the last lap, allowing Petty to win.
Allison and Yarborough got out of their cars at Turn 3 and fought in front of the large crowd of CBS. The definition of the competition and that fight allowed NASCAR to grow in popularity.
Another notable race was on July 4, 1984, when he achieved his 200th victory by winning the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. He had a tough rival to Yarborough, whom he beat with a fender.
The celebration in the victory circle was also very particular: among those who celebrated were the president Ronald Reagan, who as part of his re-election campaign had decided to go celebrate Independence Day in NASCAR. In fact, he gave the order to start the engines from Air Force One on the way to the race ...
How could it be otherwise, Richard Petty's farewell was incredibly emotional. That 500 Hooters 1992 is known as the best race in history because it defined the crown among six drivers. There were more than Per people in the stands who did not want to miss the farewell to the great champion, nor the passionate definition (none of those present would know that this debutante named Jeff Gordon would become one of the great idols shortly after). The competition won it Bill elliottWhereas Alan Kulwicki took the crown 10 points ahead of Elliott.
Richard Petty was far from shining: he ranked 39 out of 41 drivers. In the competition things got worse. He had a serious fire on lap 94 from which he came out without a scratch. His Pontiac was badly battered, but that didn't stop him. Already in the pits, the mechanics managed to repair it and he returned to the race two laps from the end. Thanks to that he was able to receive the checkered flag in 35th place. But the most emotional came later.
With the heartfelt Alabama song called "Richard Petty fans" as a background, he sped his damaged car around the circuit and waved his left arm out of the window to his audience. At that moment, El Rey began to enjoy the glory that he had earned on the track.