Wednesday, February 12, 2003
Kyle Petty treasures fun in sun at Daytona
By KEN WILLIS
DAYTONA BEACH — Kyle Petty has been coming to Daytona Beach for as long as he can remember. The third-generation racer was born in June, 1960, 16 months after his grandfather, Lee Petty, won the first Daytona 500. He was 3 when his father, Richard Petty, won the first of his seven Daytona 500s.
During Speed Weeks in 1979, at age 18, Kyle took to Daytona´s high banks for the first time -- and won, capturing the ARCA 200 (although he has always admitted he had little idea what he was doing). That season, he also ran five Winston Cup races to begin a career that continues to this day.
Today, along with driving full time, he is the CEO of Petty Enterprises, the storied race team that was started by Lee, taken to unmatched heights by Richard, and currently trying to regain its status as a weekly favorite for victory.
“When I think back to what I remember most about coming to Daytona, I´ve got to say the beach.
That was the big deal for us when we were kids. We never went to the beach anywhere else. Far as I knew, Daytona was the only place in the country where the ocean touched the shores of the United States, because Is´s the only place we ever went where we saw the ocean.
All we ever did was race, so we were constantly going to races and going to racetracks. There wasn´t a beach in North Wilkesboro, wasn´t a beach in Bristol.
From a kid´s perspective, you remember the old boardwalk and the old pier. There was the Rat´s Hole, where you could go get a painted T-shirt every time you came down here. That was jammin´, because that was over on the beach, right there. The old Steak-N-Shake that used to be on the beach...
We stayed at the Royal Beach (hotel), then we moved to the Sea Dip. Then we moved from the Sea Dip to the Treasure Island. The Royal Beach was the best, because I was just a little kid.
I remember leaving the Royal Beach and going down to Cape Canaveral to see the rockets for the first time. Man, that was huge. I was 9 or 10 years old. That was the one thing my mother always did whenever we went anywhere. The racetrack was why we were there, but she always looked for other things to do. We went to Marineland a hundred times. I even went there last year when we went home. I rode up A1A and stopped there.
We went to St. Augustine every two or three years when we were little. we´d go to the fort and to the Fountain of Youth.
And from the racetrack´s perspective, there used to be the old scoreboard, with four sides, and the playground under it. My mother would score in the (infield) grandstands right over there and we´d play in the playground during the race. Then, when the race was over, they´d come pick us up in the playground and we´d go home.
With my father, and with Pete Hamilton and all the other drivers who drove for Petty Enterprises, we never expected to come down here and not win the race. That´s not a cocky statement, but as a 9- or 10-year-old, when you go to McDonald´s you expect to get a hamburger. You go to Daytona, you expect to get a trophy. That´s part of what it was to come down here.
When they named the street after my father, that was the first time that had ever been done. It was a pretty big moment for him. He´d been coming here since they raced on the beach, so it was a big deal. He came here and watched my grandfather win the race. My grandfather was almost killed here. To have that recognition in this town was a pretty big deal for him.
My biggest memory of that first ARCA race was that they would let a psycho on the racetrack in the first place. We really shouldn´t have won the race. There was a guy from around here named Phil Finney -- he should´ve won the race, but he hit a seagull over in the middle of the backstretch and it knocked the windshield out of the car.
I was just in the right place at the right time and ended up winning the race. For me, that was a big deal. They had just paved the racetrack, which might´ve been the last time they paved the entire racetrack.
Goodyear had come in with a brand new tire. There was so much new and so much different, you could send an idiot out on the racetrack and he could do something. They chose me as a test.
That same year that I won the ARCA race...they always have a golf tournament over here, and my grandfather ended up winning th golf tournament -- his team did. And my dad won the 500. That was a big year for us. The golf tournament and two races, you couldn´t do much more than that at Daytona.” -- Kyle Petty