Born in Level Cross, North Carolina, in 1937, Richard Petty was exposed to the world of racing at an early age. He would often travel with his mother and brother Maurice to watch his father Lee race. Petty’s father was a very successful driver who won the inaugural running of the Daytona 500 in 1959. Richard Petty’s racing career began in 1958. He would be named NASCAR Rookie of the Year that season after producing 9 top-10 finishes and six top-5 finishes. Petty would score his first win in 1960 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The win was an important first step in Petty’s impressive racing career. After some years of fighting his way through the pack, Petty had a breakthrough season in 1963 with wins at Martinsville and Bridgehampton. In 1964, driving a hemi-engineed Plymouth, Petty led 184 of the 200 laps to capture his first Daytona 500 victory. The win was one of eight for Petty that season and helped power him to his first championship. Petty would secure a second Daytona 500 win in 1967, thus becoming the first driver ever to win the event twice. Petty won 27 of the 48 races he entered that year, including a record 10 wins in a row, giving him a second Championship.
Petty’s final win came at the Firecracker 400 on July 4, 1984, at Daytona Speedway with President Ronald Reagan in attendance. After Petty’s retirement in 1992, President George Bush presented him with the Medal of Freedom Award, America’s highest civilian honor. Petty’s NASCAR career produced some hugely impressive stats. Petty ranks first in numerous categories, including races started (1,184); most top-five finishes (555); most top-ten finishes (712); most pole position’s earned (123); and most laps completed (307,836). In total, Petty won 200 races during his career, nearly double that of the next closest competitor. Petty’s dominance of the sport earned him the nickname “The King.”