Petty finds way to cope, continue

Posted: Monday, July 24, 2000

CONCORD, N.C. -- Anyone who doubted the resilience of Petty Enterprises, and of Kyle Petty in particular, needs look no further than Tuesday's announcements by the team at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The Petty clan, laid low by the worst kind of grief and tragedy in the past few months, expressed the strength to pick up the pieces, the will to continue and the wisdom to size up a situation and make the best of it.

Petty revealed Tuesday that he will step back from Winston Cup racing for awhile to bring Pett Enterprise's Sprint-sponsored Busch Series team to Cup racing next season, as planned.

Steve Grissom, Petty Enterprise's Craftsman Truck chauffeur, will take over Kyle's No. 44 Hot Wheels car, beginning at Darlington, S.C. John Andretti will continue to drive the team's famous No. 43.

The Pettys had planned a three-car operation for 2001. The difference between Tuesday's Plan B and the Plan A conceived a year or so ago is simple, and agonizing. There is no Adam Petty. Adam Petty is gone.

Adam, Kyle's 19-year-old son and heir apparent, died instantly in a crash during Busch race practice May 12 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Adam, whom Kyle described as not only his son but also his best friend, was to carry the family into the 21st century.

Kyle went into seclusion after Adam's death, skipping the Cup events at Charlotte and New Hampshire. Meantime, he drove Adam's No. 45 car in Busch events at Dover, Del., and Nazareth, Pa.

Some wondered whether Kyle had lost his will, whether he would care to continue in the sport that killed his son. His voice shook the rare times he talked, and he seemed at times adrift.

What, too, of Sprint's plans? The company had made a long-term commitment to the Petty organization, with Adam as the flag-carrier. Would the company, confronted by crisis, back out of the deal?

Both questions were answered Tuesday.

Kyle, 40, is one of NASCAR's most popular stars. To sustain the Sprint situation, Kyle offered to take Adam's place in the cars and to bring the program forward as it would have moved with Adam. Sprint apparently found that satisfactory.

''It's been a trying couple months, to say the least, for our entire family,'' Petty said. ''(But) I felt like it was important to get into the 45 car and carry on something we had worked hard for at Petty Enterprises and that Adam had worked so hard to build. It was to continue that and see it through to the end.''

Remember, too, that Petty, who succeeded father Richard as CEO, is responsible for about 120 workers on three teams.

''I started thinking about this the Monday after Adam's accident,'' Kyle said. ''When I walked back into Adam's shop and talked to his guys, I realized that was his team. When I went in and talked to them, it was more of an emotional decision for me, because I just couldn't let someone whose last name wasn't Petty back in that car.''

In addition, working with the 45 group helps Kyle stay connected to his older son.

''I get more enjoyment out of driving that 45 car than I do running the Winston Cup races,'' Petty said. ''For me, emotionally it's a healing process for me. We haven't changed the seats, we haven't changed the steering wheel. In a lot of ways, that still keeps me close to him.''

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