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The King turns 80: Dale Inman reflects on Petty's accomplishments

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The King turns 80: Dale Inman reflects on Petty's accomplishments
By:
Jun 26, 2017, 6:48 PM

Richard Petty is unmistakable.

Myers Brothers Awards: Eight-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship crew chief Dale Inman accepts the Buddy Shuman Award
Richard Petty
Dale Inman
Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Petty congratulates Dale Earnhard on his seventh championship
Richard Petty with 2014 inductee Maurice Petty
Richard Petty
Aric Almirola, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Richard Petty
Richard Petty
Richard Petty

With his cowboy hat, trophy-sized belt buckle, dress boots, signature mustache and sideburns, the King’s iconic style has endured for decades. Petty, who will turn 80 on Sunday, is still a towering figure in NASCAR racing, both literally and figuratively.

To this day, Richard still believes he owes the fans. They don’t owe him.

Dale Inman on Richard Petty

So it’s not surprising that fans still recognize the seven-time champion wherever he goes — even in the middle of San Francisco.

“We were out last night and this guy saw Richard, he fell to the ground and started rolling around he was so excited,” long-time crew chief and fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Inman said as the No. 43 team was analyzing Saturday's first practice in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage. “I don’t know if he was crazy or not.”

Still a racer at heart, Inman jokes that he turned 80 first. A champion crew chief eight times over, Inman became an octogenarian last August 19. He celebrated the event with Petty at Waffle House.

Growing up with the Petty clan in Level Cross, N.C., Inman initially spent more time with his fellow mechanic and engine builder Maurice Petty, Richard’s younger brother. Patriarch Lee Petty won three NASCAR championships before Richard ran his first full season in 1960.

He hasn't changed

Inman joined Petty Enterprises in 1963 as Richard’s crew chief. The bond between the cousins grew over time.

“From Day 1, he hasn’t changed much,” Inman said. “He’s just gotten older. Me and Maurice were bigger buddies growing up. They didn’t let Richard drive until he was 21. When he started driving, Lee was still driving. Lee was the No. 1 driver, and we were just trying to keep up with Lee and it built from there.”

In their first season together, Inman and Petty won 13 races. They would go on to win seven titles and 180 races, including seven Daytona 500s, before parting ways in 1981, when Inman joined Osterlund Racing to work with a young Dale Earnhardt.

But Inman believes Petty’s greater legacy will be his philanthropic endeavors. Richard and his late wife Lynda were active in many charities across the Sandhills region. The Petty Family also donated the 84 acres for Victory Junction Camp in Randleman where children with serious medical issues experience a welcoming environment. Victory Junction was founded by Richard's son Kyle Petty in honor of his own son, Adam Petty, who lost his life in an on-track accident at New Hampshire in 2000.

“I think his contribution to Randolph County, North Carolina is a bigger record than his racing record,” Inman said. “He just has a great feeling for people — so did Lynda. They were good-hearted people. He was raised that way and continued to do so throughout his life.

“It’s a standard that’s hard for today’s drivers to keep up with, but in defense of that, there’s so many more people in the garage.”

As Inman continued, a young fan walked up to Petty in the Sonoma garage. The King obliged for yet another autograph.

“What is she, maybe six-years-old,” Inman asks. “It’s unlikely she even knows who he is, but she’ll be a big fan now. He walks into a room — and it just changes. I talked to Brad Daugherty this morning. He wore 43 throughout his college and pro (basketball) career because when he was about 12-years-old, Richard stopped and talked to him in North Wilkesboro.”

Plenty of legends followed, but none are quite like the King

While NASCAR has developed plenty of champions since Petty retired in 1992, there will never be another King. Petty passed the torch to Dale Earnhardt, whose career was cut short in 2001. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson have won multiple titles, but none of those champions have resonated with the fan base at Petty’s level.

Though third-generation driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. shares a similar pedigree and certainly stands out as his generation’s ambassador of the sport, Junior's on-track accomplishments pale in comparison with Petty's. Inman believes NASCAR has moved beyond the time where a character who is larger than life is needed to promote the sport beyond the Southeast.

“The situation doesn’t call for it,” Inman said. “The time doesn’t call for it. It’s a different world now. The race cars are different. They still have numbers on them, but they’re so much different. We raced them when they were stock cars. It’s such a different world now.

“When Lee Petty started driving, he was 35 then. To him, it was a business then. If it ever was a sport, it was probably the era when Richard came along, 'cause he loved it. He still loves it. He loved to drive. He got into that car with a brace on his neck from a fractured vertebra at Pocono, to start Talladega. He started races with fractured ribs.

"To this day, Richard still believes he owes the fans. They don’t owe him. He owes them — and he’ll tell you that.”

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Richard Petty
Author Lee Spencer