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Speed TV special takes fans inside Petty family

- mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013

Richard Petty had just wrapped up an interview on Speed’s “NASCAR Race Hub” last year when he surprised host Steve Byrnes with an unusual request.

Come up to Randleman, Petty suggested, and plan to sit down for a few hours. Petty wanted to do a long-form interview about his six decades in the sport and told Byrnes nothing was off-limits.

“He believes that if we don’t capture the history of NASCAR now, it will just drift away in time,” Byrnes says. “It’s important to him.”

So off to Randleman he went with Speed producer Pam Mariani. From that comes “A Racer’s Life,” a one-hour special airing at 8:30 p.m. Monday on Speed.

Much of the special focuses on Petty’s personal life, how the household was managed on a racing schedule. Wife Lynda disciplined the kids and held things together in Petty’s absence.

When son Kyle was born, Petty was off racing.

“My mom will tell you that all she remembers about waking up from having delivered me was she had a baby boy and a black eye that was swollen because the doctor had punched her in the face because she had screamed so loud,” Kyle Petty says. “She never says anything about the King being there.”

Lynda Petty is cancer free after being diagnosed in 2010 with a brain tumor and cancer of the central nervous system, but has suffered mini-strokes. “He still calls her twice a day if he travels, and even though she can’t really remember that he’s called, she always lights up when she hears his voice on the phone,” says daughter Lisa Petty Luck.

One of the family’s greatest tragedies came in 2000 when Adam Petty was killed in an accident at New Hampshire International Speedway. Richard Petty, 75, says his grandson was expected to carry on the family racing tradition.

“We had looked at Adam as being the next Petty taking it to the fourth generation,” he says. “Whatever it took, we were going to give him what we thought was the best so he could go forward, and the Good Lord didn’t see it fit like that. He said, ‘This is the end of that dynasty.’ ”

Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

Washburn: 704-358-5007