In the world of motorsports, the Petty name is synonymous with speed, success, and an enduring legacy. Adam Petty, a promising young talent and a member of the legendary Petty racing dynasty, tragically met his untimely demise at the age of 19. The circumstances surrounding Adam Petty's death left the racing community and fans in shock.
In this article, we delve into the heartbreaking details of how Adam Petty died and the impact it had on the Petty family and the racing world.
Who was Adam Petty?
Adam Petty, born on July 10, 1980, was a professional stock car racing driver from the United States. He was the great-grandson of NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty, the grandson of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, and the son of Kyle Petty. Hailing from a family deeply entrenched in the world of stock car racing, Adam inherited both the passion and the skill for the sport.
Petty was raised in High Point, North Carolina, in the tradition of stock car racing “royalty.” Kyle Petty's son was generally expected to succeed his father, grandfather Richard, and great-grandfather Lee as the next great Petty.
Petty debuted in the ARCA RE/MAX Series in 1998, shortly after turning 18 years old. He won his first ARCA race, like his father Kyle, driving the #45 Pontiac at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Petty began driving the No. 45 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series full-time in 1999. Petty finished sixth in his debut Busch Series race at Daytona and fourth at Fontana, though he did not qualify for three of the Busch events. Petty concluded the 1999 season with 20 points.
Petty Enterprises intended for Petty to run a second Busch season in 2000, while also providing him seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts in preparation for a full Winston Cup season in 2001.
He struggled early in the Busch season but managed to qualify for his first Winston Cup race on April 2 at Texas Motor Speedway. He qualified 33rd and ran in the center of the pack for the majority of the day until his engine failed, forcing him to finish 40th.
Adam never had the opportunity to race with his father. Adam was already out when Kyle eventually replaced an ailing Elliott Sadler after failing to qualify. Lee Petty, Adam's great-grandfather and three-time NASCAR champion, saw his grandson's Winston debut but died three days later.
How did Adam Petty Die?
On May 12, 2000, during a practice session for the Busch 200 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which would have been his 48th career Busch Series start, Petty's throttle stuck wide open going into the third turn of the track, causing the car to hit the outside wall virtually head-on, killing Adam instantly due to a basilar skull fracture. He was 19 years old.
Petty's race lasted only 215 laps before his engine failed, dropping him to 40th place. However, by following in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Lee, grandpa Richard, and father Kyle, he became the first fourth-generation driver to start a Cup Series race.
In addition, he became the first member of a family to compete at the highest level of a sporting series for four consecutive generations. Unfortunately, that was Petty's only start at NASCAR's highest level. Just 40 days later, he was killed in a practice crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
During the crash, Petty was killed instantly. As a result of the accident, his head and neck snapped rapidly forward, resulting in a basilar skull fracture.
How Did the Death of Petty Change NASCAR?
In the weeks that followed, as NASCAR investigated Petty's incident, another promising racer was murdered in the same area for the same reason.
On July 7, Kenny Irwin Jr.'s car slammed into the wall in turn 3 at New Hampshire due to a jammed throttle and landed on its side. Irwin, like Petty, died in the incident as a result of a brain injury.
Following Irwin's crash, NASCAR imposed switches to turn off the engine on every driver's steering wheel, as well as restrictor plates on every car's engine for the track's fall race.
However, no head and neck restraints or full-face helmets were required by the sanctioning body. That only happened in 2001, after Earnhardt died on the final lap of the Daytona 500 from a skull fracture.
Kyle Petty changed his NASCAR number to No. 45, Adam's number, not long after his death. Petty continued to race with that number for the rest of his Cup Series career.
The Petty family also decided to build Victory Junction, a camp for children with physical issues or illnesses, in his memory. The camp began in 2004 and continues to provide entertaining diversions for children getting medical care across the country.
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When those youngsters arrive at the camp, they are greeted by an oversized model of Adam's No. 45 automobile.
“When you see these kids leave with a smile on their faces, that's a little bit of Adam smiling with each one of them,” Petty added.