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NASCAR and a little fascination for Formula One

1973 Tuborg 400 at Riverside Raceway. despite a late race tangle with a backmarker, Richard Petty drove his #43 dodge to 2nd place on Riverside’s challenging road course. Photo: VR Archive

My father ran in the first NASCAR Cup race in 1949, when I was 11 years old, but I went along to ­spectate. When I was old enough, I became a racer too. Let me say though I was nearly 21 years old before I sat behind a wheel to race, I had to serve my apprenticeship. It was that education that helped me all along: knowing the mechanics of what I was driving, and the capabilities of each component. That knowledge really gave me the edge and led to my success in later years. NASCAR racing has gone on in our family for generations after—my son, Kyle, and late grandson, Adam, have also gone on to race. I suppose it’s a bit like a farmer’s son becoming a farmer: He doesn’t know any better.

The first race I ran in was a convertible race, which was the same type of car my Dad ran. We cut the tops off the cars and ran them with no tops. The first Cup race I ran was in Toronto, Canada, in August or September of 1958. It was a little old third-of-a-mile track there. So, I went clean out of the country to start my career. It was a spectacular debut—my Dad crashed me! I had just started and, of course, he had been racing for some years. About halfway through the race, he came up to lap me, and I suppose I was a little slow getting out of his way, so he pushed me into the wall at Turn 3. That was my first lesson in racing: If you’re slow, you’d better get out of the way. I suppose it was two lessons in one really—just because my Dad’s in the race don’t expect any favors from him.

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