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Room for another Petty in NASCAR’s Hall?

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Sunday, May. 19, 2013

Richard Petty is asked to make the case for his brother Maurice to be elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Don’t need to,” Richard Petty says with a smile. “He’s made his own case. Doing what he did for all those years, as far as I’m concerned, he did what he needed to do (to be elected).”

Along with his brother Richard, Maurice Petty was a cornerstone of the Petty Enterprises dynasty, the man who built those powerful engines that produced seven NASCAR championships in the 1960s and ’70s.

Maurice Petty, 74, is one of 25 nominees for the hall of fame’s fifth induction class. The five-member class will be announced Wednesday, with the induction next January at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte.

If Maurice – one of five first-time inductees – is elected, he’ll be the fourth member of the iconic Petty organization to go into the hall, joining Richard, father Lee and cousin/crew chief Dale Inman.

And while his older brother (by 18 months), dad and cousin received the bulk of credit for the team’s success, the man they called “Chief” was usually content to stay in the background in the garage and at the Pettys’ shop in Level Cross.

“He seemed to be very satisfied with that,” Richard said. “To him, it was about more than people knowing what he did. He knew what he did. He had the inner satisfaction of doing the job. He knew he could go home and know to himself that he did a good job, instead of having somebody pat him on the back.”

Maurice Petty succeeded despite being diagnosed with polio as a child. The disease didn’t stop him from being an excellent athlete at Randleman High or from getting behind the wheel of a race car. He competed in 26 races at NASCAR’s highest level from 1960-64, with seven top-five finishes.

“He actually did better than I did in my first 25 races,” said Richard. “But he had a wreck … he turned that thing over, got out and said, ‘You drive ’em. I’ll work on ’em.’”

Maurice quickly established himself as a skilled, crafty engine builder. Times were different then, Richard reminds, so his brother was on his own much of the time with just his tools and his wits.

“They didn’t have ‘dynos’ back then or CNC machines,” Richard said of the computerized contraptions that help modern-day race teams. “It was all by hand. And he didn’t have an army of people around to help him out. He might have two or three boys in there with him.”

Maurice built engines for other drivers, including his dad Lee, Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal and Pete Hamilton (who won the 1970 Daytona 500 with Petty as his crew chief).

Sometimes, however, Maurice got too crafty. When Richard Petty won the 1983 fall race at Charlotte, NASCAR ruled the engine was too big. Although Richard was allowed to keep the victory, Maurice was blamed for the transgression.

Maurice Petty could not be reached for this story. Richard Petty said during his hey day – he won 200 races and his seven championships came between 1964 and 1979 – things could get contentious within the team.

“Sometimes we were all kind of a handful,” Richard said. “Maurice was a little hot head. He didn’t take too much off anybody, you know what I mean? He and Dale would go at it if the car didn’t run good or handle good. But we were all fierce competitors; we almost competed within the team. Chief would build the engine, Dale would set it up and it was up to me go keep it all straight.”

But it was a team, obviously, that worked well together – as well as any in NASCAR history. The hall-of-fame inductions of Richard (2010), Lee (2011) and Inman (2012) are testament to that.

“If they get (Maurice) in, they’ll get rid of all the Pettys,” Richard said. “They won’t have to worry about putting us in that deal anymore.”

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