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The King turns 80: Son Kyle Petty amazed by Richard's staying power

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The King turns 80: Son Kyle Petty amazed by Richard's staying power
By:
Jun 29, 2017, 2:54 PM

Richard Petty turning 80 doesn’t impress his son Kyle.

Kyle Petty
Richard Petty
Darrell Wallace Jr., Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Richard Petty
Darrell Wallace Jr., Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Richard Petty
Victory Junction-Orbit Racing press conference: Kyle Petty
Richard Petty congratulates Dale Earnhard on his seventh championship

The King hasn’t shown much evidence of slowing down. 

“He’s 80. It’s the cycle of life, it happens,” Kyle Petty said. “Every 365 days, you get a year older.”

But in a society that worships youth, Petty still draws a crowd. He’s not alone. His IndyCar counterpart, Mario Andretti, 77, is every bit as revered as he was 30 years ago.

For Petty and Andretti, 80 is the new 60. They remain the faces of their respective sports.

“It amazes me that, whether you’re six, 26 or 56 or 76, you still know who Richard Petty, Mario Andretti and those guys are,” Kyle said. “They are still relevant to the sports that they helped to build. And I don’t understand it.

“Eventually, if Michael Jordan stops going to basketball games, you’re going to forget him. You just kind of phase out. But these guys, for some reason, they’re still there.” 

Still in the garage

Maybe it’s because Petty never left the NASCAR garage. Andretti branched out —IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR. These days Andretti sticks close to the IndyCar ranks. But for the last six decades, it wouldn’t be a race weekend without seeing the King sitting outside of the Petty-blue trailer.

“It’s crazy to think about it — it’s crazy for me to think about it — that he started to go to the races with my grandad when he was 12 or 13,” Kyle said. “And last week, he’s 80-years-old, standing on top of a truck in the garage, watching cars go around. He’s been doing the same thing his whole entire life. And that’s all he really knows.

“It’s all he ever wanted to do. He didn’t want to do anything else. It’s funny, when you’re around them, they still have that eight-year-old passion. Like when they were eight years old and saw a race car, they still get giddy. They still want to talk about it all the time. They still want to talk about what they saw last weekend or talk about what’s going on in the sport. Maybe that’s why they’re 80-years-old and still look halfway young and come to the race track. But I don't think  everyone has that. And not everybody in sports has that. But for some reason, they have it.”

Passion above all else

Certainly, successful race car drivers have to possess a tremendous amount of talent to reach the top levels of motorsports. But exceptional racers also possess incredible passion — and that passion enables them to achieve the extraordinary.

“They saw it, they loved it and they wanted to be the best at it,” Kyle said. “It’s really simplistic. It’s incredibly simple. I talked to my dad about Jimmie (Johnson) winning all the championships — and then him winning championships. I said, ‘What was it like when you won championships?’ He was like, ‘It wasn’t a big deal.’ 

“I was like, ‘What do you mean it wasn’t a big deal?’ He said, ‘Our job was to go out and be the best every Sunday. To be the best every time there was a race. And if you were the best every time, then you’re going to win your share of races. And if you won your share of races, you were going to win a championship. And two, three, four months later, you were back there doing it again. They didn’t dwell on it. Now, we’re talking about championships from the moment we get to Daytona.”

Richard Petty didn’t have time to relish his championships. When he won the first title in 1964, the season actually began in November 1963 at Concord (NC) Speedway. It ended 363 days  — and 62 races later — at Jacksonville (NC) Speedway.

Although the schedule held half the races by the time Petty won a record-seventh title in 1979, the tour still raced from January at Riverside (Cal.) International Raceway to November at Ontario (Cal.) Motor Speedway. 

Fifteen years later, Dale Earnhardt tied Petty’s title record. Johnson matched the mark last season. As a driver turned TV analyst for NBC Sports, Kyle is duly impressed by his father’s unyielding desire to compete.

“It amazed me talking to him that it wasn’t that big of a deal,” Petty said of his father’s championships. “I never thought about it, but even in his house the Daytona trophies are more important to him than his championship trophies were. If you look at where he has the trophies and where he’s positioned them. 

“It goes back to the same thing, they love the competition and love the sport so much, it came natural to them so they didn’t have to work for it.”

Will Petty's mark be beat?

Petty amassed his seven titles over 16 years. Earnhardt accomplished the task in 15 seasons. Johnson reached the seven-championship fraternity the quickest — 11 years, including a stretch of five-consecutive titles. 

Will Johnson break the seven-time barrier to hold the all-time Cup championship record of eight?

“The only issue is he’s 41,” Petty said. “If you look at Jeff (Gordon) or Tony (Stewart) or a lot of other drivers, they’ve really fallen off once you get to a certain point. Even if you look at Earnhardt and the King, there were some lean years there once they got to that stage. Is he past his prime? I don’t think so. But, history says kind of. He’s in that zone a little bit.

“At the same time, there’s Chase, there’s Joey, there’s Kyle Larson. There’s a new group that thought they were shooting at him before. Now they really are. Now they’re legitimately shooting at him every week. You add a few more names to that list, it gets a little tougher.” 

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kyle Petty , Richard Petty
Teams Richard Petty Motorsports
Author Lee Spencer