The patriarch of the Petty racing family, Lee Arnold Petty, was born on this day in 1914. Petty got a late start in racing, first taking the wheel in professional competition at age 35. Soon after getting a taste for the dirt, he participated in the first NASCAR sanctioned race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His beginnings did not foreshadow the success he would find on the track. During that race on June 14, 1949, with his son Richard watching, Petty drove a 1948 Buick Roadmaster that he borrowed from his neighbor. He informed the neighbor that the prize money he would earn would cover any damages the car incurred during the race. Petty rolled the car.
Petty rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s as one of NASCAR’s early superstars, even winning the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. During his NASCAR career he would rack up three Grand National Championships, in 1954, 1958 and 1959. His career all but came to an end after a wreck during qualifying for the 1961 Daytona 500. After a four month hospital stay he was advised to stay off the track, but Petty sporadically showed up to competitions. Petty’s final race was at Watkins Glen in 1964.
Lee Petty was father to Richard Petty, grandfather to Kyle Petty and Ritchie Petty and great grandfather to Adam Petty, who was the first fourth generation driver in NASCAR. Adam died during a practice session crash at New Hampshire International Speedway in 2000. Lee Petty passed away just three days after Adam’s Winston Cup Series debut at the age of 86.