by Robin Meiser
The racing community has become complacent in the past several years. The success of our sport in the past five years has been phenomenal. Stock car racing has soared in popularity, and is now the most popular spectator sport in the country. NASCAR and stock car racing in general has become an industry all its own. We have created a whole new class of folk heroes, the most famous being anyone bearing the name of Petty. They are the First Family of Stock Car Racing. They are the epitome of what a racing "family" should be.
Start with family patriarch, Lee Petty, who we just lost within the past month, a short week after his great grandson, Adam made his debut in Winston Cup Racing. While we all mourned the loss of the eldest Petty, we knew we still had Adam, with his bright future ahead of him. Adam would carry on the Petty tradition with his father, Kyle, racing beside him and grandfather, Richard, guiding them both from the pits. Petty Enterprises would truly be the family business that race fans always hoped it would be.
Any diehard NASCAR fans who have been around a Winston Cup garage or special events that involved the Petty family probably feel like they personally know Adam, his brother Austin, and sister Montgomery Lee. They are the ultimate RaceTrack Brats, as was their father and his sisters before them. Their mother, Patty, had once been Miss Winston before marrying Kyle. They grew up spending their weekends in the pits of racetracks. We all know the Petty Family folklore.
I remember when Adam was about eight years old and they had a Big Wheels race for the children of the drivers at Race Fest in Daytona Beach, Adam Petty being one of them. The fans that were there, my family among them, cheered for the little Richard Petty look-a-like as he raced his pedal powered vehicle. I'll never forgot the way he smiled that day with that big Petty grin taking up his whole face. His parents were standing on the sideline, rooting him on, pride on both their faces like any other average American parents.
That is the thing that makes the Petty family so special to us, they are so average. Anyone fan lucky enough to meet Richard Petty has always found him to be the average Joe, taking the time to talk to fans, sign autographs, and pose for pictures. He has never forgotten his roots, unlike many of today's well known stock car drivers. Richard passed these traditons down to Kyle, who in turn passed them on to his son, Adam.
We expected that Adam would pass it on to his children but unfortunately that will never be. We have lost our Crown Prince. He left us doing what he was born to do, racing a stock car, practicing for the big event. Listening to the commentators during the New Hampshire Motor Speedway Busch race today, I was struck by several things they said. Glenn Jarrett, brother of Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett and son of past champion Ned Jarrett, said it best, "while we know there will be risks in our sport, we are never ready to accept the consequences." Is there any better way to say it?
It is a sad day in stock car racing history; there is no doubt about it. How do you even begin to imagine a mother losing her son on Mothers Day weekend? Even people who aren't race fans know the Petty name and grieve with the rest of us. Maybe we should do what ex-driver Buddy Baker said, "rather than grieve, let's celebrate the time we had with Adam." People that knew Adam said he was like the sunshine. Unfortunately, our sun set early yesterday but the sun will come back out and the spirit of Adam will shine on.
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