ATLANTA -- Even when a Petty dies, the show must go on. But it doesn't mean is has to be the same.
Roughly 30 minutes before the start of Saturday's CVS Pharmacy 200 for the NASCAR Busch Series, drivers at the New Hampshire International Speedway will be reminded that exactly one year earlier, Adam Petty was killed in the third turn.
Then, just as they did a year ago, they will race.
Dale Earnhardt's death cost a treasure from the past, Petty's death robbed racing's future
When Dale Earnhardt was killed at Daytona last February, stock car racing lost a piece of its treasured past. But when Petty died, the sport lost its future.
Young Petty, a fourth generation driver with his grandfather's charm and his father's passion, was supposed to pump new life into a racing organization that had become stale. The grandfather, seven-time champion Richard Petty, hadn't won since 1982. The father, Kyle Petty, hadn't won since 1995. And the patriarch of the family empire, Lee Petty, died a couple months before his great-grandson hit the head-on during a practice lap.
Adam Petty was going to change everything. Then he died two months short of his 20th birthday.
Petty Enterprises, whose record includes 52 years of racing on the NASCAR circuit and 273 victories, has suffered through both personal and professional problems since the death. The void created by Adam Petty's death is compounded by the fact the three-car operation struggles each week to make the starting lineup.
``Some days you wake up and don't want to go anywhere,'' Kyle Petty said. ``You just want to sit at the house. Other days, you feel yourself getting kicked in the rear end and you've got to get up and move.''
Perhaps realizing there now are greater issues than fast cars, there is no panic at Petty Enterprises. Kyle Petty, who runs the operation while his father makes frequent escapes to his secluded ranch in the Rocky Mountains, is trying to re-build the team. So much of the future was built around Adam, and now he's trying to start from scratch.
The team dumped Pontiac for the new Dodge Intrepids at the beginning of the season. The famed No. 43 traded in the STP sponsorship for Cheerios. Kyle moved from his No. 44 car to No. 45 - the car Adam was supposed to drive on the Winston Cup Series this year. Buckshot Jones now drives the No. 44 car, but not before the team swapped sponsorship from Hot Wheels to Georgia Pacific.
``It's easier for me to focus on the (No.) 45,'' Kyle Petty said. ``If we can make the 45 successful, then in my heart I know we have given Adam everything that we could give him to succeed. That's what I'm trying to do here.
``Adam, personally, had already changed the way I looked at racing. After 20 years of driving a race car, you just get jaded. You get jaded to people wanting autographs or doing this or doing that. For Adam, it was all so new and it added an element of excitement. To see the excitement he had for that, then it gave you a new excitement for the sport.
``Then with his death, I think again it changed the way I looked at the sport. I've always said this, but I probably believe it now more than ever: It is just a sport. It's not the end of the world. You go to Indy, you don't make the race, you go home. Big deal. You sit in traffic after a race. Big deal.''
Kyle Petty now tries to focus on the race team. It's all he has left.
``In a lot of ways, I compare this organization to the Green Bay Packers of the mid-60s,'' he said. ``They just dominated football, and that's what Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises did. Then, somewhere down the line, we got complacent, maybe lackadaisical. We just fell off the bandwagon, and now it's incredibly hard to catch up.''
The Winston Cup Series currently is taking its second of only three off weekends until Thanksgiving, and it's clear the Pettys needed a break. Kyle Petty has failed to make the starting lineup in four of the first 11 races. Jones has failed to make two races. Neither has a top-10 finish.
The best car from the Petty stables is John Andretti's No. 43. He's got two top-10 finishes and he's ranked 29th in the point standings.
Jones is 39th in the rankings, while Petty is 44th.
``Sometimes I feel like the lady that's in charge of the dorm for the fraternity,'' Kyle Petty said. ``I just go in a clean up when they make a mess or run wild.
``I'm looking at a bigger picture and longer term, and we've got plenty of time to catch up. At the end of the year I'll look at it and see where we are. I don't think missing races has done anything to this team. The team has kept its head and kept plugging along.''
Kyle Petty knows there won't be another Petty behind the wheel of a race car after he quits. His other son, Austin, has shown no interest in moving into the fast lane.
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