It was a fascinating hour.
For those of you who missed it, here are some excerpts as supplied by SPEED:
On continuing to live in his hometown of Randleman, N.C., where the interview was conducted:
“This is home,” Petty said. “A lot of people (in racing) move to another community and they aren’t the same people because the people around them won’t let them be the same people. Here, if I go to town or church or school functions, it’s ‘Hi Richard, how are you doing?’ It’s no big deal. You’re just one of the gang, and that’s the satisfying part of being at home.”
On courting his wife, Lynda:
Petty married Lynda in 1958 when she was 17 and still in high school. He was 21 and his career had just begun. The couple eloped in South Carolina and kept it a secret, waiting until he could afford a ring.
“I brought her home, dumped her out in the middle of town, she went into her house and I went home,” Petty recalled. “I took me three or four months to get a diamond for her, and by the time we got the money, I bought a diamond and told everybody we were married.”
On dividing family duties and raising children as a couple with Petty away from home:
With two victories to his credit when Kyle was born, Petty says he and Lynda clearly defined their individual responsibilities within the family.
“We sort of sat down and said, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’” he related. “’I’m going to go out and I’m going to be gone but I’m going to make the living. You bring the kid. Make sure he’s fed. You do your part and you pay the bills. I’ll bring the money in and throw it on the table. You take care of everything.’ That’s the way it worked. She had her responsibilities and I had mine.”
On being tough and racing when injured:
Petty frequently drove hurt. When paycheques are earned on the track, lengthy recoveries aren’t an option. The King says he raced countless times with broken bones and probably competed with a concussion every other weekend.
“He was in the hospital because he had a bleeding ulcer and they came in one night and said, ‘Mr. Petty, we’re probably going to let you go home in the morning,’” his daughter Sharon recalled. “So he thought, ‘The morning?’ So he put his clothes on, went down the fire escape, got home, beat on the door. Mama didn’t heard it because their bedroom was on the end of the house, so he goes to her bedroom, started beating on the window, scares her to death, checks the window, and there was Daddy. She’d just left him at the hospital. He just is not a good patient.”
“No matter how bad you hurt, your mind is what tells you, you hurt,” Petty explained. “So, what you tried to do was control your mind so that you didn’t hurt. For some reason I was fortunate to have a threshold that pain doesn’t bother me like it does some people.”
On tragedies the Petty family endured:
The Petty family’s life wasn’t all one big Victory Lane celebration. Lee Petty, Richard’s father, nearly lost his life on the track, and the family suffered the tragic loss of Richard’s 19-year-old grandson, Adam, in a race car. The Petty triumphs always have been tempered by tragedy.
“Our life isn’t a lot different than a lot of other people’s lives,” Petty pointed out. “We’re just in a different arena. We’re in racing where people pay attention and they think you’re on a pedestal. You’re not. You’re just a regular guy doing a different job. My job was racing. Kyle’s job was racing. Adam’s job was racing. And once something like that happens, then we look around and say, ‘Why me?’ But it’s happening all around the world and to other people, too. There’s more attention thrown to us than what our neighbors would be. They’re going through the same situation, just with a smaller crowd of people.
“We had looked at Adam as being the next Petty taking it to the fourth generation,” Richard Petty continued. “Whatever it took, we was going to give him what we thought was the best so he could go forward, and the good Lord didn’t see it fit like that. He said, ‘This is the end of that dynasty.’ ”
On his longevity in the sport:
“I’ve been here 60 years at the race track,” Petty said. “I went to the very first race and I’ve been to 99-per-cent of them since then. It’s my home. It’s my life. I think when people see me and talk to me, they realize how much I really loved what I did and I love what I do now.
“There’s very few people who can say that … I’m just going to sort of hang onto what’s going on and enjoy the rest of my life.”
“He’s been there to all those races from the first to the last one that was run, and he still remembers so much of that,” son Kyle Petty said. “It’s so deeply embedded in his hopes and dreams and his psyche that Richard Petty without racing wouldn’t be Richard Petty.
“He would just wander around up there in that house … Racing is his connection to life and he has to go have it every Sunday to get that influx of excitement and that influx of people in the sport, the smell of gasoline and rubber, and being around people who love the same thing he does. That’s where he gets his life force or his energy from.”