When race fans think of Daytona International Speedway, one name usually comes to mid.
The Petty family – Lee, Richard, Maurice, Kyle, and Richard’s cousin Dale Inman – have had more success at the 2.5 mile speedway than most drivers have throughout their entire careers.
Lee, the family patriarch, won the inaugural Daytona 500 in a photo finish. Back when it took days to develop photos and transfer them in the mail, it took the better part of a week to determine that Lee beat Johnny Beauchamp to the line by a matter of feet to win a caution-free speed fest on the brand-new track that would become the cornerstone of the family’s legacy.
Lee’s two sons, Richard and Maurice, would turn the high banks into their personal playground through the 1960s and 1970s. With Richard behind the wheel and Maurice building the engines under the hood, and cousin Dale Inman calling the shots for the team from the pits, Richard won a record seven Daytona 500s from 1964 through 1981. Richard won ten times in 74 career points-paying starts at Daytona, including his all-time record 200th career NASCAR Cup Series win in the 1984 Firecracker 400, witnessed live and in person by then-President Ronald Reagan.
When Richard’s son Kyle, then just 18 years of age, decided he would like to pursue a career as a professional racecar driver like his grandfather and father before him, it was decided he would make his first career start in any type of race in the ARCA 200 at Daytona in 1979. It may have been a surprise to some, but Kyle lived up to his namesakes and made the trip to the hallowed ground of Daytona’s victory lane.
Even Maurice’s son Ritchie found success at Daytona. He made one of his 13 career ARCA starts at Daytona and finished ninth in 1992, driving a car built and owned by his father.
Between Lee, Richard, and Kyle, the Petty family has combined for 262 wins in the Cup Series as drivers. Inman left the family team for several years in the 1980s and won races and another championship with Terry Labonte. Virtually every record that can be held in NASCAR was at one point held by a member of the Petty clan.
But it hasn’t always been an easy ride for the Pettys. Lee’s career was cut short after a grinding crash in a qualifying race for the 1961 Daytona 500 with, ironically, the driver he defeated to win the 1959 race, Johnny Beauchamp. Richard’s 20-year-old brother-in-law, Randy Owens, lost his life in a freak pit accident at Talladega Superspeedway in 1975. And tragically, Kyle’s 19-year-old son Adam perished in a racing crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000.
Adam was to be the fourth generation to carry the Petty name well into the 21st century. Four months after Adam lost his life, Richard’s daughter Rebecca and her husband Bryan Moffitt, who is now CEO of Richard Petty Motorsports, had a son named Thad, and 18 years later, the Petty family is again on track at Daytona.
Thad Moffitt has the Petty smile, if not the last name. He started racing late models in the mid-Atlantic region when he was fourteen, and in 2016 was the Southeast Limited Late Model champion. In 2017, he dipped his toes into the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards and in 2018 earned his first career top-ten ARCA finish at Toledo.
In 2019, Thad and his Empire Racing team will compete for the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge, a championship-within-the-championship that encompasses tracks longer than one mile.
“We’ve done short track stuff to this point but now that I am old enough we’re going to concentrate on the superspeedways in 2019,” Moffitt said during the ARCA Racing Series’ annual pre-season test at Daytona. “We have sponsorship for most of the races already set and we’re pretty confident we’ll line things up for the races we don’t have covered yet. We’re really excited to get on track and see what we can do.”
He knows the family has a long history at Daytona, and he’s ready to do his part to carry it on.
“It wasn’t something I thought about when I was out there on the track the first time,” he said. “But when you get out of the car and it kind of sinks in, it’s really incredible to be out on the same race track where Lee won back in 1959, and The King won the 500 seven times, and uncle Kyle won the first time he ever drove a race car. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to think about it.”
Moffitt will attempt to become the fourth member of the Petty family to win in ARCA when he fires off for Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire at Daytona, joining Lee’s brother J.H. Petty, who won both halves a twin-100 event at Flat Rock in 1953, Kyle, who won at Daytona in 1979, and Adam, who won at Charlotte in 1998 in his first-ever series start.
Both Richard and Kyle have said their sons’ respective ARCA wins were among the most memorable moments in their racing careers.
“I’d have to say 1979 was probably the most exciting from my standpoint,” Richard said in a 2008 interview with Speedway Illustrated magazine. “1964 was big because that was my first superspeedway win, but 1979 was memorable not just because we won the 500 but also because Kyle won the ARCA race, the first time he’d ever been on a race track.”
“Watching my son Adam win at Charlotte is my greatest sports memory,” Kyle told Winston Cup Scene in 2003. “Seeing him win at Charlotte in an ARCA race in 1998. He had an accident in practice and dang if he didn’t go out and win the race. That was my biggest moment.”
Thad, for his part, would like to create a moment of his own.
“I wish I was around to have met Adam. He was a really special person, and he did so much good for everyone around him, and he still does,” Moffitt said, referring to the Victory Junction Gang Camp that carries on Adam’s memory. “We all wish he was around to be the fourth generation of Petty, but it’s really an honor for me to be able to do it. We’ll find out on race day if we’re able to carry on the family legacy here at Daytona. We’re going to give it our best shot.”
Moffitt and the rest of the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will take the green flag in the Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire on Saturday, February 9 at 4:30 pm ET. The race will be televised live on FS1. ARCARacing.com will have live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates free for registered users.