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NASCAR WCUP: A Fond Farewell To Adam Petty

13 May 2000

By David Treffer
Contributing Editor, The Auto Channel

The main item that I will miss about Adam Petty was his ever-present smile. My first introduction to the fourth-generation member of NASCAR's most famous family was at a local Daytona restaurant during the 1999 Speedweeks. I was having lunch with The Autochannel's executive producers Bruce Gordon and Paul Dever catching up on the business and tasks at hand. We were just into the middle of our lunch when Kyle and Adam Petty were seated just behind us.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, Bruce Gordon had arranged for The Autochannel to carry Adam Petty's in-car radio feed during the Busch race. Meeting the younger Petty for the first time I was immediately charmed to learn that he presented himself in much the same down-home southern manner as his well-known grandfather and father. The apple truly had fallen just inches away from the proverbial family tree trunk. It was also the first time that I was introduced to that wonderful smile.

Bruce Gordon suggested that I follow Adam as much as possible without interfering. Adam Petty had a sponsorship deal with Sprint and the company was pushing the Spree Phone Card. The brightly painted rig and racecar were impossible to miss. Speedweeks during Daytona are a feeding frenzy of news gathering. Trying to follow the younger Petty's movements around the paddock and keeping up with other news of on track activities is impossible. I explained to Bruce Gordon that I would have to pick and choose my times following the young Petty.

My first encounter in the paddock area with Adam Petty was after he had concluded a quick conversation with one of the Winston Cup driver's. While I was not privileged to listen in I could tell by the hand gestures that the discussion centered on how a car should handle in a certain turn at Daytona. Afterward, I asked Adam why not just get your input from your father or grandfather who certainly know they way around Daytona. "They know a lot about this place.... but I want to absorb as much as I can from other people too." A very astute observation from one so young. Once again I was treated to that disarming and yet engaging smile.

The next time that I was able to catch up with Adam Petty was just before qualifying. I asked him what he would be happy with. "I would love a top ten but realistically anywhere in the top twenty-five will be great." When qualifying was over Petty had qualified his car 22nd. Considering that this was his only his fourth race in the Busch series and first time at Daytona it was a good effort. Asking him about the qualifying effort, Petty replied "It was a real learning experience. This place is just awesome."

On raceday I followed Adam after the driver introductions. Walking down the pit lane toward his racecar he was as calm, cool and collected as a seasoned veteran. The fans and well-wishers were almost overwhelming. Once again that bright smile never left. Waiting for Adam beside his racecar were his father and grandfather. The moment was truly magical. Three generations of Petty's on the pitlane at Daytona. It does not get any better than this. Here was this 18 year-old fourth-generation legacy about to cut his teeth at the palace that his grandfather had made a household name. When the younger Petty climbed into his racecar his father whispered some last-minute advice. I wanted to ask what was said but that would have been intruding on a father/son moment.

Whatever the advice Kyle Petty whispered to his son it certainly worked. Adam Petty dodged, weaved and darted his way around accidents and slower traffic to take sixth place. Pulling into the post-race impound area next to the Union 76 re-fueling area Petty was met by his grandfather who was wearing a smile that could have lit up a small town. Adam Petty had just started the post-race question and answer's from the assembled throng of media when his father Kyle walked up. Throwing his arms around his son, Kyle planted a kiss on young Adam's cheek. The younger Petty turned beat red at the public display of affection but he knew that this gesture was coming from a very, very proud father. It will be a picture that I will always cherish.

The sad news of Adam Petty's death at New Hampshire was a blow to everyone in the motorsports community. You tell yourself that one so young should not die so early in life. However, death is a known-quantity that every driver accepts when he or she gets behind the wheel of a racecar. In the days and weeks ahead the extended NASCAR family will wrap it's comforting arms around the Petty's. However, the one thing that we will not be able to retrieve will be that wonderful smile. How sad for all of us.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.