Richard Petty

Full Name:
Richard Lee Petty
Born:
2nd July 1937 (Age 82)
Level Cross, North Carolina
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

"The King". Richard Petty is the son of a three-time NASCAR Champion Lee and he etched his own lasting place in stock car racing history. 1,184 starts, 200 victories (as well as another couple as a relief driver), seven titles and over $8.5million in winnings are the facts behind NASCAR’s most famous driver.

Family background and early racing career

Lee Petty was the inaugural winner of the Daytona 500 and Richard emerged as the star of stock cars during the 1960s. He cut an immediately recognisable figure with his Stetson hat and the number 43 on the side of his STP-sponsored car.

The teenager’s grounding in the sport came working on his father’s engines with his brother Maurice and Richard warmed up his race car on occasion. While Maurice would eventually be happy behind the pit wall, Richard Petty made his NASCAR debut in a 1958 race at Toronto in Canada. He crashed his Petty Enterprises Oldsmobile on a day when his father won.

Petty soon found that flesh and blood meant for little in his family. The 21 year old thought he had scored his breakthrough victory at Atlanta’s Lakewood Speedway in 1959 only for his father to protest, claiming a scoring error. NASCAR rechecked the lap charts and swapped the first two positions with Lee now declared the winner.

NASCAR Rookie of the Year

Nonetheless, the younger Petty was sensational that year. He was named as 1959 Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the convertible division. He did not have to wait long for victory and that success owed much to his father. His lead at the Charlotte Fairgrounds early in the 1960 was under pressure from Rex White until a lapped Lee Petty nudged the second placed car into a half-spin that allowed the youngster to win by six car lengths. Petty’s Plymouth Belvedere won twice more during 1960 as he finished as runner-up behind White.

NASCAR champion

Also second in the 1962 and 1963 seasons when beaten on both occasions by Joe Weatherly, Petty won the 1964 Daytona 500 as he eased to his first championship title. NASCAR’s pervading politics of the time saw the Petty absent at the start of 1965 but he returned to score a remarkable 27 victories during 1967 that included 10-in-a-row as he secured a dominant second title.

A distant third in 1968 despite winning 16 times (as did champion David Pearson), he defected from Plymouth to a Ford Torino at the start of 1969 and immediately won first time out at Riverside. He won a total of 10 races that season but he was forced to miss a couple of rounds after breaking his ribs at Asheville and Pearson again won the title with Petty runner-up once more.

Petty returned to Plymouth after just one year away to drive the newly introduced winged Superbird. A broken shoulder and concussion curtailed his 1970 season after Petty barrel-rolled four times during the Rebel 400 at Darlington.

Unencumbered by injury, Petty won the Daytona 500 for a third time in 1971 and he led the championship from March to the final round. His 38 top-five finishes (from 46 starts) included 21 wins as he beat James Hylton to the title.

The modern era

The 1972 season ushered in NASCAR’s modern era with fewer races, new title sponsorship from Winston and a revised points system. The outcome was the same for Petty retained his title with Bobby Allison second. Those two drivers had been feuding off-and-on since 1967 and their rivalry erupted again during the closing stages at North Wilkesboro. Repeated contact ended with both cars in the wall on the last lap although Petty recovered to win. The action was not over for a drunken fan tried to attack the winner after the race.

Only fifth in 1973, Petty’s Dodge Charger won both the 1974 Daytona 500 and Winston (now Sprint) Cup and he made it four titles in five years by virtually leading throughout 1975.

Petty's seventh title

Petty and Pearson emerged from the final corner of the 1976 Daytona 500 side-by-side. They crashed and the damaged cars spun into the infield but Pearson was able to limp across the line with Petty stranded. Runner-up that year and the next, Petty endured his first winless season for nearly 20 years in 1978. He bounced back to clinch his seventh NASCAR championship at the final round of 1979. Only Dale Earnhardt Sr has equalled that tally so far.

There were days that NASCAR’s greatest star was found wanting by its sanctioning body – most notably after winning the 1983 Miller High Life 500 at Charlotte. His Maurice Petty-prepared Pontiac engine was found to be larger than the prescribed 358ci and the number 43 had also transgressed a tyre rule. But in typical NASCAR style, the result stood with Petty fined $35,000 and docked points – what the fans see stays in the record books in this form of the sport.

That was win number 198 and he notched his 200th and final NASCAR victory at Daytona’s 1984 summer meeting with President Ronald Reagan in the crowd. Petty emerged unscathed from a spectacular barrel-roll during the 1988 Daytona 500 and raced on until 1992. NASCAR’s greatest ambassador continued as a team owner although the recession of 2008 forced his operation to merge with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1992 Winston Cup 26th 2731
1991 Winston Cup 24th 2817
1990 Winston Cup 26th 2556
1989 Winston Cup 29th 2148
1988 Winston Cup 22nd 2644
1987 Winston Cup 8th 3708
1986 Winston Cup 14th 3314
1985 Winston Cup Grand National 14th 3140
1984 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
2 0 2 2 10th 3643
1983 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
3 0 3 3 4th 4042
1982 Winston Cup Grand National 5th 3814
1981 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
3 0 3 3 8th 3882
1980 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
2 0 2 2 4th 4255
1979 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
5 0 5 5 1st 4830
1978 Winston Cup Grand National 6th 3949
1977 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
5 0 5 5 2nd 4614
1976 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
3 0 3 3 2nd 4449
1975 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
13 0 13 13 1st 4783
1974 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
10 0 10 10 1st 0
1973 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
6 0 6 6 0
1972 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
8 0 8 8 1st 0
1971 Winston Cup Grand National
Petty Enterprises
21 5 21 21 1st 0
1970 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
18 7 18 18 0
1969 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
Holman Moody Racing
11 3 11 11 0
1968 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
16 5 16 16 0
1967 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
27 15 27 27 1st 0
1966 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
9 7 9 9 0
1965 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
4 2 4 4 0
1964 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
9 2 9 9 1st 0
1963 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
14 4 14 14 0
1962 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
8 2 8 8 0
1961 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
2 1 2 2 0
1960 NASCAR Grand National
Petty Enterprises
3 1 3 3 0