For more than 50 years, NASCAR's royal family remained untouched by an on-track racing death. But shortly after noon yesterday, Adam Petty, the always smiling 19-year-old son of Kyle, grandson of Richard Petty and great-grandson of Lee Petty, was killed in a crash during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.
Adam was practicing for today's Busch200 at the Loudon, N.H., track.
Adam's car brushed the wall in Turn3, spun and then crashed hard into the wall. The track's rescue unit had to cut through the roof to reach him. He died of head trauma shortly after arriving at Concord Hospital, an official there said.
There has been no statement from the Petty family. When the accident occurred, Kyle and his youngest daughter, Montgomery Lee, were on a plane to England as part of a family outing. The rest of the family gathered with Adam's mother, Patti, and Adam's younger brother, Austin, at their High Point, N.C., home."It is difficult to express our sadness over the passing of Adam Petty," said NASCAR president Bill France in a statement. "The Pettys are an integral part of the sport of NASCAR. The entire NASCAR community will miss Adam Petty."
A year ago, Adam began his Busch Grand National career and immediately made history. For the first time in anyone's recollection, a family had four generations of competitors in the same professional sports organization in the United States.
Kyle Petty put his arm around his son's shoulders at the time and said, "Imagine, 51 years ago, my grandfather [Lee] was there. Then came my father and then me, though you'd hardly know it. Adam wanting to follow in our footsteps, in the footsteps of his family, is a very big deal for us. In truth, I'm prouder of being the son of Richard and the father of Adam than I am of being Kyle Petty."
A little more than a month ago, Adam made his Winston Cup debut at Texas Motor Speedway. Three days later he lost his86-year-old great-grandfather Lee, who died April5 of complications from surgery on a stomach aneurysm. Lee Petty had started the family business."Today's accident took from us a kind, wonderful young man whose bright personality won him the admiration of sports fans around the world despite the fact that his career was just beginning," said Eddie Gossage, the general manager of Texas Motor Speedway. "I'm glad my last memory of Adam was only a week ago, laughing and cutting up as we took part in his dad's annual Charity Motorcycle Ride Across America."
Only 19, Adam had already made an impression. Winston Cup driver Sterling Marlin said he remembered when Adam was born and recalled, not long after that, seeing him sitting on his granddaddy's shoulders in Victory Lane."He looked like he was a natural there," Marlin said. "I've got the feeling he started making plans to get back to Victory Lane for the Daytona500 as fast as he could. Paula [Marlin's wife] and me, our prayers go out to everyone in their family."
Adam was running in his second full season in the Busch Grand National series. He finished a career-best fourth at California Speedway a year ago. He was 20th in points and third in Rookie of the Year competition. In September 1998, he won the Automobile Racing Club of America race in Charlotte, N.C., at age 18, becoming the youngest driver in that series to win.
Jerry Gappens, vice president of public relations and promotions at Lowes Motor Speedway, said he had seen Adam last week as he prepared for what was to be the second of his five Winston Cup races this season, the Coca-Cola600."He was standing a little ways from me and I remember thinking how eerie it was that he looked so much like his grandfather Richard," Gappens said. "He had that Petty smile, and he had that long, thin, lanky build, just like his grandpa."
And Winston Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield said he will always remember that until he met Adam Petty, he had never known anyone who was so happy all the time. "Adam loved racing and he loved his family," Mayfield said. "He was doing what he loved to do and the thing he had always wanted to do - and he loved every second of it."
Adam's death is the first on-track fatality at a NASCAR-sanctioned event since John Nemechek was killed in a Craftsman Truck race in Homestead, Fla., in 1997. The last Busch Grand National driver to be killed in an on-track accident was Clifford Allison, the son of Hall of Fame driver Bobby Allison, who was also killed in a crash during a practice session at Michigan Speedway in 1992.
A spokesman for the Petty family said funeral arrangements are incomplete.