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Adam Petty’s Death Ended Greatest Dynasty

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 17 2010

Adam Petty

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the death of Adam Petty, and it’s equally hard to comprehend the changes set in motion by the death of the charismatic young driver.

It ended the greatest family dynasty in the history of sports.

Adam’s father Kyle was a popular driver. His grandfather Richard was NASCAR’s winningest racer and all-time fan favorite. His great-grandfather Lee was a champion and one of the sport’s pioneers.

That was the mantle that Adam was poised to inherit, a banner handed down through three generations.

The Petty dynasty ended on a grim day at New Hampshire Speedway when Adam’s car slammed into the wall during practice.

A decade later, famed Petty Enterprises is no more. Kyle has given up racing for broadcasting. Richard remains active as a figurehead for another team.

After a half-century of thunder and glory, there are no more Pettys on the track.

And we are left to wonder, had Adam had lived, what might have been.

I interviewed Adam a week or so before his death. He was in Nashville for a race at Fairgrounds Speedway, and I sat with him in the team hauler and discussed the family’s past and future.

Weeks earlier Lee Petty had died and Adam was very much aware of the lineage, the history, the role he had inherited.

He was bright and energetic and possessed the dazzling Petty smile and natural charm. And he loved to race. He had the Petty genes.

I’d had occasion to observe a younger Adam in prior years when Nashville’s Bobby Hamilton drove for Richard. Covering Bobby, I frequently ran into young Petty. He practically grew up in the team’s hauler.

During our final conversation he talked about how much the sport meant to him, how proud he was of his family history, how it felt to be the grandson of “The King” – as he smilingly called his famous grandpa.

And a few days later he was gone.

Some say that the death of Dale Earnhardt at Daytona the following year was the most momentous event in the sport’s history and set major safety innovations in motion. I agree, but I also believe the earlier death of Adam Petty lent extra emphasis to the Earnhardt tragedy. It was a crushing back-to-back blow: the death of a charismatic young prince followed by the death of the sport’s most famous reigning warrior.

In a span of months the sport lost a Petty and an Earnhardt – a large part of its future and its present – and some feel that it has never recovered.

How different would things be today if Adam Petty were alive and racing, now in his prime? Would he winning races and contending for championships, with his famous father and grandfather at his side? How invigorating would his impact be?

Sadly, we’ll never know. All we know for sure is that things have never been the same since that fateful day, a decade ago last week, when a dynasty died.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 17 2010
6 Comments

6 Comments »

  • Victoria says:

    By the grace of God, Adam lives on at the Victory Junction Camp. Every smile, laugh, picture, and hug of a happy camper is a testament to the greatness of Adam and his Family. Sometimes in loss there is great victory.

  • James Kinnear says:

    Great read Larry. As Petty fans we ask ourselves this question also. What might have been. Adam seemed to have the driving skills having won races in the ASA series at the age of 18. Assuning PE could build the car to be competetive he would probably be in a top 10 ride at worst these days. As a previous comment states PE was to receive 30 million from sprint, coke and others. I never had the pleasure of meeting Adam in person although I was at his first and only cup race and a member of his fan club. The day he died I felt like I had lost my best friend. The legacy is gone but it is good to see Kyle on speed each week sporting that petty smile and adding to the sport through commentary. Heck, one day we may see a Petty behind the wheel in the series again. Who know’s Adam’s brother Austin could have a son that want’s to drive a race car. Ya never know. Now that would be a heck of a story.

  • Steven Schaefer says:

    I agree about the tragic deaths of Dale & Adam, lets not forget Kenny Irwin who passed that same year and within a few yards of where Adam crashed as an additional flag for safety changes. I am sure it was just an oversight as the story was about families but you mentioned the move for safety and there were 3 lost lives in a year.

  • RA Eckart says:

    Impressive that Wayne is a better talent scout than the Cup garage. The running joke about Adam was that talent had skipped a generation from Richard to Adam. And the sponsors were lined up – Coke, Nike, Sprint. You have to have big-time money and Petty Enterprises was about to land the motherlode. Enough to propel PE to the Hendrick, Roush & Gibbs levels. In Adam’s limited runs, the Cup garage saw what might have been. And then the dynasty was gone. Great article, Larry.

  • Wayne says:

    Interesting article but I believe if Adam were alive today he would not be driving in NASCAR. Just like his father Kyle, Adam would no longer have a ride as this is a performance business and I did not see Adam as someone with exceptional talent.

    • Tom says:

      Wayne,

      And you have a crystal ball? You can project this young man’s life into 2010? Wow! Can you help me with my 401-K?

      Dillweed…