Born on this day, race car legend Richard Petty (1937-) was only five when he started up his Daddy's old '38 Ford truck and drove through the fields of his family's Level Cross, North Carolina farm. He stood on the seat, driving, while the men in his family tossed hay bales into the back of the truck.
His dad, Lee, won the first Daytona 500 in 1957. "My Daddy was a race driver, so I became a race driver. If he'd been a grocer, I might have been a grocer."
Petty, "the King," in his #43 racer, logged unmatched statistics before his 1992 retirement. He was a seven-time winner of both the Daytona 500 and NASCAR national champ (1964, 67, 71-72, 74-75, 79) and the first stock car driver to win $1 million. He was the all-time NASCAR leader in races won (200), poles (127), and wins in a single season (27 in 1967).
"It is more important to be smooth than fancy," he once said. With his trademark cowboy hat and dark glasses, the popular Petty has the reputation of being responsive to fans, still smiling and giving autographs.
Petty has had the wisdom to understand how fans are the core of his popularity and the heart of racing itself. Many believe Petty's passionate dedication to fans transformed NASCAR racing into the most popular form of motor sports in America today.
"We've been fortunate," Petty said in 2008. "Racing has given us the opportunity to meet presidents... It has taken me to Hollywood, to the White House, to Japan - all over the world."
Perhaps the late, great Dale Earnhardt said it best: "There is only one Richard Petty. There's only ever been one. There will only ever be one."
Look ahead... And steer.