Even auto racing families turn nervous on wrecks

February 15, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Yesterday's Daytona 500 had all the makings of a poignant new chapter in Petty family lore.

Seven-time winner Richard Petty was making his debut as a car owner.

Son Kyle, who never has won the race, was starting a powerful Pontiac from the pole.

And Lee Petty, who won the first Daytona 500 in 1959, had made the trip from Level Cross, N.C., to watch it unfold.

By the time it ended, Richard saw driver Rick Wilson slam his red and blue No. 44 Pontiac into the wall.

And the easygoing Kyle was in a red-faced rage, shaking his finger in Bobby Hillin's face for a crash that put him out of the race.

Those weren't the only wrecks to try a family's nerves yesterday.

Al Unser Sr. watched Dale Earnhardt take his son out of his first Daytona 500. Al Jr. was running in the top five when Earnhardt clipped his right rear quarter panel.

Rookie Kenny Wallace drove past his brother Rusty's Pontiac as it did a back flip through the air and disintegrated, flipping and rolling down the backstretch.

"I said: 'Check on Rusty! Check on Rusty! He just flipped end over end,' " Kenny Wallace said. "The guys started calming me down. They said: 'Calm down, Kenny. There's nothing you can do.'

"It worried me sick. To see your own brother flip that many times and worry that he's not dead or something. But he's OK. He's got some stitches on his chin, and he's talking to everybody."

Wilson ran his car into the wall on Lap 141, which brought Richard Petty running from the pits into the garage. As the car came to a halt, Petty paced briskly around it, inspecting the damage on all four corners. Then he grabbed a mallet and started banging out the dents.

Within minutes of Kyle Petty's wreck, Richard was with his son.

"I just asked him was he hurt," Richard Petty said. "As far as telling him, 'Hey man, shake it off,' you can't do that. He's got his own mind-set."

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