Kyle Petty Returns To Racing
June 2, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
This week's MBNA Platinum 400 at Dover Downs International Raceway marks Petty's return to racing after three weeks of seclusion spent mourning the death of his 19-year-old son Adam, who died May 11 in a practice crash at New Hampshire.
Petty, who has lived his entire life in the public eye as the son of seven-time champion Richard Petty, and later as a Winston Cup driver himself, was grateful to the fans and the media for respecting his family's privacy and allowing them time to grieve.
"First, let me thank you guys (the media) for kind of just leaving us alone for a couple of weeks, to be totally honest with you," Petty said. "We appreciate that more than you'll ever know. It's been a hard two or three weeks.
"There was the funeral on Monday. Almost, from that day on, we've lived in our own little world. It was incredibly hard for Pattie and I to go back to Adam's race shop. You'll never know how hard it was to walk through those doors and see those cars sitting there with his name on it, and see his seats in the car and his uniforms and stuff like that. But at the same time, there is nothing Adam loved more than race cars, and being around his crew and the racing people."
Petty attempted to hide his sorrow with the aid of charcoal-colored sunglasses, but at times, he had to stop and compose himself before continuing. He knows Adam would have been disappointed that he chose not to compete in the activities at Charlotte, but Petty simply needed time to heal.
"I can rest assured that he would kick my butt to know that we didn't go to Charlotte, just to be totally honest with you," Petty said. "I just couldn't go to Charlotte. Charlotte was a Winston Cup race for him and a Busch race. He had gone over there and tested, and he was incredibly excited about going back to Charlotte, and just being there for the (Coca-Cola) 600 and being there for the Busch race, and they (Adam's team) felt like they had really good cars for both of them.
"I just couldn't bring myself - because we had talked about it so much - I just couldn't bring myself to go to Charlotte."
Petty felt it was necessary to return to the track this weekend to fulfill his racing commitment in the No. 44 Hot Wheels Pontiac, and he thought that Adam would have wanted him to continue to race the No. 45 Spree Grand Prix (Adam's car) in the Busch Series as well.
Petty contemplated racing the Busch car at Dover with the team, and they all agreed that he would be the only acceptable candidate for the job. But when the time came to make the journey to Dover, Petty's emotions overcame him.
"Coming in here last night and just rolling through the front gate of the racetrack knowing that Adam wasn't here was pretty hard," Petty said. "I'll say that. I didn't take it too good last night because, like I told Pattie, being at the racetrack on Thursday nights was our time.
"It was mine and Adam's time. He had been here, (gone) through inspection, he had a lay of the land and we'd go to dinner and do stuff. I don't think the emotion of getting back in the car and getting in his car is going to be that bad, because I've been around his crew every day, and been around that car every day. I think it was just coming back to the racetrack and seeing new people and being around that part of it. That's the toughest part, and walking in here with you guys (the media) is hard, but I don't think the race car part will be that hard."
In the last few weeks, the Petty Family has received condolences from friends and fans all over the world -- some who knew Adam and others who didn't. Petty called the support “incredible.”
"The biggest thing has not been from people you know," Petty said. "It's not been the outpouring or the calls from people you know or things like that. It was the people that you'll never meet and you'll never know. And it's not just been the individuals. It's been the cards that we've gotten from entire families that every family member has signed, and stuff like that.
"It's phenomenal how many cards we’ve receive and how many letters we've gotten and how much we continue to get. It's been amazing. Pattie can tell you, too, that for the last two or three weeks, every afternoon I come home from work and we sit down and we go through the mail. You just about sit there and cry every day just from letters people have written, whether it's a little girl and her family or an older gentleman and what he's gone through losing a son or losing a daughter.
"It's been pretty phenomenal from that perspective."
Although Petty has spent his entire life immersed in racing, he never really
appreciated how far-reaching the sport has become until now.
"You look at Winston Cup racing, and I've always joked about it, and said all we really do is ride around in circles," Petty said. "But in reality, I don't think I ever even realized how many lives you touch by what we do out here. I think it brings a lot of enjoyment to people, seeing us do what we do. They begin to feel a part of your family, and they begin to feel like you're part of them. That's been phenomenal for me. I guess I should have realized it a long time ago, but it really hit home with this."
The tragedy has also given Petty the opportunity to see how many lives Adam affected in such a short period of time.
"He had such a short career, but that doesn't make any difference," Petty said. "It's like we've always said that what we've always tried to do... we've had success on the racetrack as a family, but it's what you do away from the racetrack. It's how many people's lives you touch and you help the other way. I don't think he even realized how many people he touched.
"I was talking to a guy from Texas the other day and he told me, 'You know, I never met your son, but I've never talked to anybody that, since this has happened, has had anything but good things (to say). He must have been a really good kid.'
"That pretty much summed it up. That's just it. He was just a good kid."
Petty has questioned whether or not he is ready to come back to racing, but he insists that he never considered retiring.
"People ask that question and that never crossed my mind," Petty said. "It's like we've said before. This is what we have always done as a family. My grandfather did it, my father did it, I've done it, Adam did it. This is what we do.
"We look at ourselves in a lot of ways like a bunc