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Performance & Hotrod Business February '14

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In 1971, "The King" began a long and illustrious partnership with STP. Early Years The start of his race car driving career came on July 2, 1958, when he turned 21 years old. Three years earlier he had asked his dad, Lee Petty, if he could drive a race car. "I know what you're leading up to and the answer is no," said his father. "Not now. When you're 21, then we'll talk about it. Not until then, no more discussion!" As soon as the magical 21st birthday came up, Richard acted on what his father had told him earlier. "I walked over to where Daddy was working on the race car," he remembers. "I told him that 'I think I'd like to try driving a car in a race.' He didn't even look up from what he was doing, but he said two things: 'OK, there's an Oldsmobile convertible over there,' and, 'hand me that five-eighths socket.'" The worn-out 1957 Oldsmobile received the marking "43" (simply because it was the next number that came after his dad's number 42) and soon young Richard ran a few races in the convertible class. It was in 1958 and the second car was run under the umbrella of Petty Engineering, as that is what the business was called at the time. Richard's start behind the wheel was anything but successful—it was more like a demolition derby. He destroyed five cars in his first 15 races, and only averaged $84.44 per race in winnings. His initial time on the track was a long ways off from being big-time racing. Right about this time he was dating a local cheerleader, Lynda Owens, and he had a 1956 Dodge that was an old race car that was made back into a road car after erasing the "42" lettering on the doors. It was a bare-bones vehicle and didn't have a passenger seat, so Richard threw an old tire in there and put a blanket over it. That was where his 17-year-old freshman date sat. She was to be the love of his life. "He would always open the door for me, of the car, when I got in, he would always go around and open the door for me to get out," said Lynda years later. "A lot of times we'd go to a drive-in to get something to eat. He'd say, whatever you wanted to eat, just order it. Oh my goodness, the hamburgers were always delicious." February 2014 PHBFEB.indd 39 n Performance & Hotrod Business n 39 1/7/14 2:35 PM

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