ORLANDO, Fla. -- Richard Petty, who holds the NASCAR record for career victories, is expected to announce his retirement at a news conference today at Level Cross, N.C., a source close to Petty said yesterday.
The source, who requested anonymity because of his job, said Petty, 54, will drive next season then retire.
Petty confirmed the news conference but would not say why. "Until then," he said, "I can't tell you a thing."
Petty has been tight-lipped about his plans as a driver. Retirement rumors have been circling him for several months. He is expected to break that silence by announcing his "Farewell Tour" for next year but will continue his involvement as an owner in 1993.
"I'll always be part of this sport in some way," Petty said this past year. "Them cats ain't going to get rid of this cat so easy."
Petty, nicknamed "The King," has won the crown of stock car racing -- the Winston Cup championship -- a record seven times during his 33-year career. His 200 victories include seven Daytona 500 titles.
"There isn't nobody else like The King," Dale Earnhardt, who is closest to Petty's record with four Winston Cup titles, told The Associated Press. "When he calls it quits, a legend will be gone. He raced against my daddy, and I grew up watching him win."
Petty has been driving in the middle of traffic for the past six years. In 1990 he finished 26th in the Winston Cup standings. So far this year, Petty is 23rd ($234,260 in winnings). He has one top-10 finish. His last Winston Cup victory came at the 1984 Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
"Richard had been chasing his 200th for a couple of years," Daytona International Speedway president Jim Foster said. "There was Richard -- a Republican and county commissioner in his hometown of Randleman (N.C.) -- and President Ronald Reagan. The president was our grand marshal for the race, although he didn't get there for the start.
"There was a great scene where Richard was coming down the backstretch as Air Force One flew over him, landing at the airport behind the speedway . . . I remember Petty edged Cale Yarborough by six inches. It was an incredible day."
It is one of many. At 6 feet 2, 170 pounds, Petty has filled his racing suits with a wiry, stick figure, and his wallet has been fat. His career earnings are $7.4 million.
It's Petty cash for a man who has always worked hard for a living.
"If you can get your body into the seat, you go to work," Petty said. "That's your office. I've enjoyed going to my office for a long time now."