June 15, 2005

Today in Automotive History

1986 A Royal Milestone

Richard Petty made his 1,000th NASCAR start at the Miller American 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan. Petty's records of success and longevity are likely never to be broken. "The King," as he is called, is first all-time in wins (200), races started (1,184), top-five finishes (555), top-10 finishes (712), pole positions (126), laps completed (307,836), laps led (52,194), races led (599), and consecutive races won (10). His statistical domination of NASCAR racing is unparalleled in the sports world. Petty, of course, grew up on the NASCAR circuit watching his daddy, hall-of-famer Lee Petty.

Richard started his first race on July 10, 1958, just after his 21st birthday. During the early part of his career he normally had to beat his dad to earn victories--and Lee wouldn't let him have anything for free. Richard explained his accident in his first Grand National race this way: "Daddy bumped me in the rear and my car went right into the wall." By the late 1960s, Petty was the dominant figure in stock-car racing, recording the astounding record of 10 consecutive victories in 1967, a year in which he won 27 of 48 races.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Petty dueled spectacularly with fellow Ford driver David Pearson. Petty's star power was in large part responsible for keeping NASCAR alive in the lean years of the '70s. Winston began sponsoring the circuit in 1972, and in that year Petty's car was the only one to run with factory sponsorship. STP offered "The King" lifetime sponsorship and for the rest of his 35-year career, and now long into his career as a team owner, Petty cars have carried the red oval. Petty won his last of seven Daytona 500s in 1981. Victories began to dry up over the next few years, but Richard's enthusiasm for racing and his fans kept him running.

In 1984, with President Ronald Reagan there to watch, Petty won the Pepsi Firecracker 400 at Daytona raceway to capture his 200th win. The second winningest driver in circuit history, Dave Pearson, won only 105 times. From 1984 to 1992, Petty didn't win a race but his name recognition was important to the sport. Not knowing what else to do with himself, "The King" stayed on the circuit to watch NASCAR become one of America's most popular spectator sports.

Posted by Quality Weenie at June 15, 2005 08:49 AM