Saturday, January 20, 2001
Updated: February 2, 12:36 PM ET
No. 43 gets seventh win at Daytona
By Fred W. Kiger
Special to ESPN.com
Feb. 15, 1981 - "The King" took a gamble on a pit stop at the Daytona 500 and it paid off royally. Richard Petty, in fourth place, stopped only for fuel with 25 laps left and didn't change tires. The three leaders got gas and new tires.
With his crew taking only seven seconds to fill his tank, Petty charged to the front. Running on the worn tires, he held off Bobby Allison, who probably had the faster car, by four seconds to win an unprecedented seventh Daytona 500.
He credited the victory to Dale Inman, his second cousin and crew chief, and Maurice Petty, his brother and engine builder, for their decision not to change tires. "Dale and Maurice put their heads together and figured that was the way we could win the race, so we took the gamble," Petty said.
"Right off hand, I'd say we had the seventh or eighth fastest car out there. If it came down to three or four running for the lead, we probably wouldn't have been in the show. If it had been one on one, Bobby would have had the advantage."
Odds 'n' Ends
When Petty was six, a fire destroyed the family home in the hamlet of Level Cross, N.C.
Petty married his high school sweetheart Lynda in 1958. They would have four children, including NASCAR driver Kyle.
Petty's first win, worth $800, came Feb. 28, 1960 after 200 laps around the half-mile dirt track at the Charlotte Fairgrounds before 7,849 spectators.
His trademark Petty blue was an accident. Not having enough paint of one color to cover the car, a gallon of blue and a gallon of white were mixed.
Saying he didn't want to confuse his fans, Petty turned down a $50,000 offer to cover his trademark blue with sponsor's STP's red. Down the road, a compromise was struck and the top of his car was painted red for
STP, but the body remained blue.
When Petty won 27 races in 1967, his winnings for the year were $130,275.
In 1971 Petty became the first NASCAR driver to top $1 million in career earnings.
Dale Inman, Petty's cousin, quit as crew chief in 1981 over money.
Petty refuses Novocain when he visits the dentist. "If you stop every pain with some kind of drug, you'll never learn any lesson," he says.
In December 1991 the North Carolina Department of Transportation named an eight-mile stretch of U.S. 220 By-Pass Richard Petty Freeway. Alas, the speed limit remained 55.
In 1992 an open house at the family compound in Level Cross drew 65,000 people and created an autograph line that stretched three miles. Petty sat on his parent's front porch and accommodated the fans.
It has been estimated that with all the twirls and swirls, Petty takes
about 10 seconds to give his autograph.
A Sports Illustrated story in 1992 reported that Petty probably gave his autograph an average of 600 times a day for 35 years.
Petty ran only 95 laps in his last race, at the Hooter's 500 on Nov. 15, 1992 in Atlanta. Involved in a multi-car accident, his car caught fire. Petty quipped, "This wasn't the kind of blaze of glory I wanted to go out in."
In 1992, Petty received the Medal of Freedom Award, the highest United States civilian award. Among those who also received the same honor at the White House were Johnny Carson, Ella Fitzgerald, David Brinkley, Audrey Hepburn and Isaac Stern.
That same year, Pontiac built 1,000 GrandPrix/Richard Petty special
editions. One reporter test drove the car and found it got 14 miles per gallon. The 1,000 sold out in about four days.
In his 35 years of racing, Petty broken some two-dozen bones and
lost about 75 percent of his hearing.
On April 2, 2000, the Pettys became NASCAR's first four-generation family of drivers when Adam, Kyle's oldest, joined the top circuit.
But the joy was short-lived. Three days later, Lee Petty died.