Formula One
 Friday, May 12
Petty family goes from glory to tragedy
 By Mike Harris
Associated Press

  • Recent drivers who have been killed in sanctioned auto racing events (with date or year and event):
    Adam Petty, 2000, Loudon, N.H.
    John Nemechek, 1997, Homestead, Fla.
    Rodney Orr, 1994, Daytona Beach, Fla.
    Neil Bonnett, 1994, Daytona Beach, Fla.
    Clifford Allison, 1992, Brooklyn, Mich.
    J.D. McDuffie, 1991, Watkins Glen, N.Y.
    Grant Adcox, 1989, Hampton, Ga.
    Greg Moore, 1999, Fontana, Calif.
    Gonzalo Rodriguez, '99, Sonoma, Calif.
    Jeff Krosnoff, 1996, Toronto.
    Jovy Marcelo, 1992, Indianapolis.
    Gordon Smiley, 1982, Indianapolis.
    Formula One
    Ayrton Senna, 1994, San Marino GP
    Ricardo Paletti, 1982, Canadian GP
    Gilles Villeneuve, 1982, Belgian GP
    Scott Brayton, 1996, Indianapolis
    Swede Savage, 1973, Indianapolis

    For a half-century, the Pettys have known mostly glory on the race track. Now, in a very short time, they've lost family patriarch Lee and youngest of their racers, Adam.

    The 19-year-old driver died Friday after his car NASCAR Busch series car crashed into the wall at New Hampshire International Speedway.

    "The brightest stars often shine brightest for a brief period of time," said Eddie Gossage, general manger of Texas Motor Speedway.

    His track is the only one where a fourth-generation Petty ever drove in a Winston Cup race. Three days before NASCAR pioneer Lee died at age 86, Adam finished 40th in the DirecTV 500.

    Still, he was happy.

    "He was always smiling and easygoing," said Dale Earnhardt Jr.

    That was a family trait, as was winning. Among Lee, son Richard, known in NASCAR as "The King" because he won 200 races; and Adam's father, Kyle, they visited Victory Lane 263 times.

    Fear wasn't something they discussed openly, although 39-year-old Kyle touched on it last year when asked by Greensboro, N.C., TV station WFMY about his son's decision to race.

    "I think it's like any parent when your 16-year-old leaves the driveway for the first time. It's like, 'Ugh, are they gonna make it back?"' he said.

    This time, the first fourth-generation driver didn't.

    He will be mourned far from the family racing complex in Level Cross, N.C. Even though his is the first racing death involving a Petty, the family has know some tough times.

    When Richard and his brother, Maurice, who served for many years as the engine builder, were young children, the Petty home burned to the ground.

    Then Maurice was stricken with polio, and Lee was seriously injured in 1961 during a qualifying race in Daytona, effectively ending his driving career. With 55 victories, he was NASCAR's greatest star of the 1950s and the first winner of its centerpiece race, the Daytona 500.

    Richard won the event a record seven times and shares with Dale Earnhardt the best record of all -- seven Winston Cup titles.

    Kyle had some success earlier in his career, winning eight times. Recently, he had taken over running the family business, priming his son to be the next marquee Petty.

    Adam was learning from the best, his great grandfather, who counseled him despite not going to the track in recent years.

    "He was pretty straight on," Adam said in a recent interview. "He'd tell me what I did wrong and what I should be doing."

    It was all about family, and his death was felt by others in sport where father-son and sibling combinations are commonplace.

    "I've got two brothers out there that I love, and this is so unfortunate" said driver David Green, alluding to fellow racers Jeff and Mark while lamenting the death of Petty. "He was on the verge of bring a superstar."

    Former driver Benny Parsons, now a racing commentator for ABC and ESPN, said some people wonder why parents permit their children to race. He said Petty was doing what he wanted and enjoying it thoroughly.

    Then, his voice beginning to crack, Parsons said: "Sometimes, the end is very, very cruel."

    Although he was deprived of racing against his father -- who failed to qualify for the Texas event -- Adam was thrilled with what turned out to be his only Winston Cup start.

    "At least I didn't tear the car up, and we learned a lot," the tall, skinny kid said.

    Adam was planning to run four more Winston Cup events this season before taking a shot at Rookie of the Year in 2001.

    Earlier this season, the young driver talked about his hopes and dreams for a future in racing.

    "I spent a lot of time away from home when I was 17 and 18, learning how to be a race driver," he said. "I missed a lot of things that other kids my age were doing and I didn't get to spend a lot of time with my friends. But, man, it's worth it if I can make this happen."

    Now, the dream is gone.


    Adam Petty dies after Busch practice crash

    Weber: A loss beyond the track

    Grief evident in Petty's hometown

     Remembering Adam Petty.
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     Steve Park says it is a sheer tragedy to lose a young racer at the start of his career.
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     Todd Bodine says Adam's death will be a loss for mankind.
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     Despite a good run, Buckshot Jones' thoughts are with the Petty family.
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     Benny Parsons says Adam Petty wanted to be a race car driver.
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