Cup Champion 1954, 1958, 1959
March 14, 1914 – April 5, 2000
Hometown: Randleman, N.C.
Petty is one of the most recognized names in the history of NASCAR. But Lee Petty didn’t begin competing in NASCAR for fame or fortune. It was a means to an end. On a good day it was a way to put food on the table and pay the bills. His career bore little resemblance to the pampered lifestyle of today’s stock car racing elite.
“We had to win,” he once said. “We was lucky to have enough food and enough gas to get to the racetrack. That’s the truth. We even carried our sandwiches. We even drove the racecar to the racetrack. We didn’t have no luxury at all.”
The desire to succeed and provide for his family made Petty a tough competitor on the track. His won 54 Grand National Series (now Sprint Cup Series) races, more than any other driver, until his son, Richard, passed him. He ranks ninth today on the all-time wins list. Petty went on to become the first driver to capture 3 championships (1954, 1958 and 1959) in the series.
His career was further distinguished by winning the first Daytona 500, although it took three days for NASCAR to officially announce Lee Petty as the winner. Petty and Johnny Beauchamp battled for the lead on the final lap and when they both crossed the finish line, it was too close to call. Photos and newsreel footage taken at the event were used to finally confirm Petty’s victory in one of the closest finishes in Daytona 500 history.
One could argue that Petty’s most significant contribution to NASCAR was the legacy he passed on as patriarch to one of NASCAR’s most influential dynasties. After his driving career was over, the company he formed, Petty Enterprises, continued for many years as an integral part of the sport. Petty was father to Richard “The King” Petty, grandfather to Kyle Petty, and great-grandfather to Adam Petty.
He passed away on April 5, 2000 at the age of 86. On May 23, 2011, Lee Petty was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
1954 Cup Champion
1958 Cup Champion
1959 Cup Champion
1959 Winner of the first Daytona 500
1966 Inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame
1990 Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame
1996 Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America
1998 Selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers
2011 Inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame