LEVEL CROSS, N.C. (April 5, 2000) Lee Petty, a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, first winner of the Daytona 500, and patriarch of the only four-generation family of athletes in major league American sports, died early this morning at...
LEVEL CROSS, N.C. (April 5, 2000) Lee Petty, a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, first winner of the Daytona 500, and patriarch of the only four-generation family of athletes in major league American sports, died early this morning at Cone Hospital in Greensboro, N.C. He was 86 years old.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Toomes Petty; two sons, Richard and Maurice Petty; nine grandchildren, 17 great grandchildren and one brother.
Petty was the founder of Petty Enterprises, the winningest organization in American motorsports, and a 10-time national champion of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The organization, which began in 1949, has won 271 races, having entered over 2,140 cars in nearly 1,800 events. Richard Petty won 198 of those races for Petty Enterprises, which has fielded cars for such other notables as hall of famers Joe Weatherly, Buddy Baker, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Tiny Lund, Bob Welborn, Marvin Panch, Darel Dierenger, Jim Paschal and Herschel McGriff.
"Lee raced in our first Winston Cup event in Charlotte, won the inaugural Daytona 500 and played a leadership role in the early growth of our sport," said NASCAR President Bill France. "He began the great Petty family tradition in NASCAR, and, of course, was the father of one the sport's superstars in Richard.
"The family's active role as competitors continues today with (grandson) Kyle and even reached a precedent setting fourth-generation over the weekend with Adam's debut in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. All of us at NASCAR are saddened to hear of Lee's passing and extend our deepest sympathy to his family."
Petty's 54 race wins in only 10 full seasons (16 years of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing overall) rank him as one of the top driving talents in the history of the sport -- only six other drivers have won more races in a career and all ran well more than 10 full years. Petty found Victory Lane on everything from dirt tracks to the biggest of the superspeedways. In 429 NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts, he had 283 top-5 finishes (66 percent) and 376 top-10s (88 percent).
Some of today's drivers said they were stunned by Petty's passing.
"You can't lose somebody who has been that big in the sport without feeling it personally," Jeremy Mayfield said. "Everybody in NASCAR lost a really important member of the family today. Our hearts go out to the Petty family. It has to be a really difficult time for them."
"Part of our history left us today," Sterling Marlin said. "I feel really bad for Richard, Maurice, Kyle, Adam, Mrs. Petty and the whole family. Lee was a great racer and he had some great racers follow in his footsteps too. He was there at the beginning and he was a major factor in where this sport is today."
A private graveside service for family members only has been scheduled this week. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Level Cross United Methodist Church Building Fund, 10142 U.S. Highway Bus. #220 North, Randleman, N.C. 27317.