Known as ‘The King’, he retired 25 years ago but still holds many records writer PETER HIGHAM
NASCAR legend Richard Petty turns 80 on July 2. The son of three-time champion Lee Petty, ‘The King’ won 200 races plus two more as a relief driver during a career that spanned 1184 senior NASCAR starts and 35 years. Stock car racing’s most famous driver remains instantly recognisable with his Stetson hat and shades.
Petty grew up around his father’s race shop and he made his debut in 1958 aged 21. He appeared to have won at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway the following season, only for his father successfully to protest the result. The 1959 Rookie of the Year, Petty’s first victory came at Charlotte Fairgrounds in 1960 and he finished as championship runner-up in three of the next four seasons. He won the 1964 Daytona 500 (first of seven such victories) as he clinched the NASCAR title for the first time.
His 27 victories in 1967 included 10 in a row and led to a second championship. Petty recovered from a shoulder-breaking barrel-roll at Darlington in 1970 to beat James Hylton to the following year’s Grand National title. He retained the newly named Winston Cup in 1972 as NASCAR ushered in the ‘Modern Era’. Successive titles in 1974 and 1975 were followed by the famed finish to the 1976 Daytona 500. Petty and David Pearson crashed in the final turn of the race with Pearson just able to limp across the line. Petty won his seventh title in 1979, five years before scoring his 200th victory at Daytona with President Reagan watching on.
NASCAR Wins: 200
7 NASCAR titles: 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979
NASCAR starts: 1184
First race: July 18, 1958, Jim Mideon 500 at Toronto’s Canadian Exposition Stadium
Last race: November 15, 1992, Hooter’s 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway
Prize Money: $8,541,210
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