Kyle Petty decided to write his memoir, “Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing,” as a way to share his experiences with the fans.
It turned out to be therapeutic, particularly dealing with the death of his son, Adam, who was killed in a practice crash at New Hampshire in 2000.
“The book started with a bunch of stories like Tony Glover from Kingsport worked with me in the early 1980s, but it needed something to tie it all together. I had the stories of my granddad, my dad and Adam, our family’s longevity in the sport. Adam was the thread of what could have been.
“It was like what was it to grow up with Lee Petty, Richard Petty and some of the things I’ve done. It was good for me a lot of ways, especially writing about Adam. That part was really, really hard, but emotionally I was able to get some of that stuff off my chest and cleared up. It was as much for me in the end as anyone else.”
Petty, who has three book signings scheduled on Friday and Saturday, took an insightful look at both family and his racing career. He won his very first race in the ARCA Series at Daytona in 1979. His NASCAR Cup Series career included eight wins and a best finish of fifth in the 1992 point standings.
He pointed out much of his career was spent starting over. His best years were in the No. 42 Pontiac for car owner Felix Sabates.
“Racing was different then. I started with my dad and went to the Wood Brothers in ’85 and they had never run all the races. It took us a couple of years to get up in the swing of running all the races and we won at Richmond and Charlotte.
“I had some good years with Felix. Sometimes I look at my career and I kept starting over, like with a team of my own. I probably spent too much time starting teams, but I’ve got no regrets.”
As an analyst for NBC Sports, he is known for saying what’s on his mind, even it if means stepping on the toes of some of his driver friends. Petty said he must be honest in his evaluations to serve the fans.
“The fans are incredibly smart and if you try to fool them, they don’t buy it because it smells,” he said. “You have to say, ’This is what I see.’ The drivers, your friends, may not like it, but I have to be as honest as I can be and there has to be a mutual respect. That’s the hard part of doing this. Some guys dance around and that’s OK because everyone has a different personality. But, I grew up where I say what I believe.”
Petty’s enduring legacy is his charity work with Victory Junction, a non-profit camp — founded in honor of Adam — that gives kids with serious illnesses a chance to enjoy the joys of childhood and not worry about being sick.
The major fundraiser is the annual charity ride, which precedes the camp, now in its 26th year.
“The Charity Ride is fascinating. We had one of our biggest years this year coming off the pandemic. It was technically the 26th ride, although we had a media ride during COVID. It’s raised nearly 20 million dollars to help Victory Junction. We’re working feverishly on our route for next year.”
Now 62, Petty is a father to two adult children. His son Austin sells commercial real estate and daughter Montgomery Lee is married to songwriter Randy Montana, who has six No. 1 country hits for Luke Combs and others. He also has three young children with wife Morgan. It is part of the message he wants to convey with the book.
“Never stop. When my uncle Randy (Owens) was killed at Talladega (in a pit accident), we kept going to the race track. When Adam was killed, we kept racing,” he said. “When you lose your ride, you keep going to the race track. You have to keep moving and have to swerve. You have to change direction and find something that works for you. Things get better. Keep moving and there’s hope. I’m 62 with Morgan and three new kids, it’s a good place to be right now.”