Skip to content

Remembering Lynda Petty: The King’s Queen and a true Southern Lady

Mar 26, 2014, 12:54 AM EDT

LyndaPetty Getty Images

It’s very rare that you meet someone for the first time and come away feeling as if you’ve known him or her your whole life.

Lynda Petty was one of those rare persons. She was a true Southern Lady, with the L capitalized for the respect she commanded throughout not only NASCAR, but in daily life.

Her husband may be The King of NASCAR, but she was his Queen and the true strength behind the entire Petty clan, raising the couple’s four kids almost single-handedly while Richard was out running nearly 1,200 races – winning a record 200 of them as well as a record-tying seven championships.

But the biggest win of Richard’s life came off the race track: winning Lynda’s heart, living and loving together for more than 55 years of marriage, a real life Hallmark love story come true.

As I think back on the handful of times I interacted with her over the years, two instances came immediately to my mind when I first heard of Lynda Petty passing away Tuesday at the age of 72.

The first time I met her was about 11 or 12 years ago. I was part of a group that had been invited to tour the Petty compound in Level Cross, N.C. While others ventured into some of the shops where Petty racing history was made, I wandered over to the gift shop, looking for souvenirs for my kids.

As I walked around, I couldn’t help but soak in the aura, the mystique of what made Richard The King and the Petty name the biggest in NASCAR history. Then out of nowhere, a voice came from behind me, saying in one of the sweetest Southern drawls you’ll ever want to hear, “How y’all doin’ today, hon?”

I turned and there was this smiling woman who proceeded to ask me if I needed any help, adding, “My name’s Lynda. What’s yours?”

After I told her mine, I mentioned I was looking for a unique gift to take home. She offered several suggestions, not giving me the hard sell to buy something, but rather ideas on what she thought my kids would like.

We got to talking for a few minutes, but it seemed so much longer. We chatted about the weather, she asked where I was from, asked about my family and said she hoped I enjoyed my time at the Petty compound and thanked me for coming.

Honestly, I had no idea who it was I just had such a friendly conversation with. I thought she was just a Petty employee. I didn’t make the connection at the time of telling me her name was Lynda and where we were at.

When I finally got to the cash register, I offhandedly remarked to the cashier just how friendly her co-worker was. The cashier leaned over slightly, looked me in the eyes and said in a near-whisper, “Oh, that’s not my co-worker, that’s Lynda, Lynda Petty, Richard’s wife.”

I had just met the wife of the greatest champion and race winner in NASCAR history, and I didn’t have a clue. She was so unpretentious, so friendly, so down to earth.

That memory of just how nice Lynda was has forever stuck with me.

I would go on to meet her a few more times over the years, with Richard always at her side. She was as friendly and welcoming each time we exchanged pleasantries as the first time we met.

One of the last times I saw Lynda seems like yesterday, just a few days before the 2008 Daytona 500. Richard and I were part of a video interview.

Afterwards, The King ambled over to his car, a gleaming white Dodge Charger, and climbed in. Lynda had been sitting in the car the whole time during the interview, listening to the radio.

I went over one last time to thank The King for his time and engaged in a little chit chat about the Charger, regaling him with how I had bought a jet-black, Hemi-powered Charger just like his about six months earlier, how fast it was and how I felt it was the best car I had ever owned.

As Richard and I jibber-jabbered for a couple more minutes about horsepower, speed and performance of our respective Chargers, Lynda sat there quietly, smiling and nodding her head every now and then.

Just before Richard drove away, she laughed and quipped once again with that ever-so-sweet Southern drawl, “Oh, you boys and all your talk about fast cars.”

Then she softly and gently reached over, put her left hand on her husband’s right hand as he was about to shift the car into drive and said, “Come on, Richard, let’s go home. Y’all have a good night, boys.”

With that the Queen and her King drove away hand-in-hand down International Speedway Boulevard, ever the inseparable couple.

Lynda put up a courageous four-year fight with cancer. Despite the excruciating pain she went through and all the exhausting medical treatments she endured, she remained personable and friendly until the end. That was Lynda’s way.

They say that behind every good man is a good woman. Whoever came up with that saying must have known Lynda Petty, because she was as good a woman as they get.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Newgarden on IndyCar: “You’re not going to find better racing on the planet right now”

    Aug 4, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT

    Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden

    Newgarden praises IndyCar series, its competitors; notes that new Rule 9.3.8 has been misunderstood.

  2. DiZinno: Mid-Ohio a dream weekend for Rahal, IndyCar, fans

    Aug 4, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Graham Rahal Graham Rahal

    MotorSportsTalk’s Tony DiZinno expands on one of IndyCar’s better weekends of late, from multiple aspects, at Mid-Ohio.

  3. Honda’s IndyCar drivers attempt to fit inside the new Fit (VIDEO)

    Aug 4, 2015, 11:47 AM EDT

    Photo: Tony DiZinno Photo: Tony DiZinno

    Watch as a double digit number of Honda IndyCar drivers attempt to fit inside the new Honda Fit.

  4. IndyCar: Post-Mid-Ohio news and notes roundup

    Aug 4, 2015, 10:43 AM EDT

    WalkerNewsRoundup Getty Images

    There was way more to the Mid-Ohio weekend than just the on-track product itself. Here’s a quick roundup.

  5. Dates for 2016 IndyCar schedule starting to come together

    Aug 4, 2015, 9:55 AM EDT

    IndySchedule16Hints Getty Images

    With several race dates having already been announced, it’s time to play “piece it together” for the 2016 IndyCar schedule.

  6. Dalziel, Alberico round out Mid-Ohio PWC, Pro Mazda winners

    Aug 3, 2015, 6:59 PM EDT

    Photo: Pro Mazda Photo: Pro Mazda

    Quick recaps of the other two races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course weekend from PWC and MRTI.

  7. NHRA: ‘Fast Jack’ Beckman earns 5th Funny Car win of 2015; Brown (TF), McGaha (PS), Krawiec (PSM) also win

    Aug 3, 2015, 12:24 AM EDT

    (Photo courtesy NHRA) (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    NHRA Funny Car driver “Fast Jack” Beckman may want to consider changing his nickname to “Faster Jack” because it doesn’t appear he’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

  8. After dream-fulfilling day, Graham Rahal isn’t worried anymore

    Aug 2, 2015, 9:47 PM EDT

    Graham Rahal Graham Rahal

    Sunday’s win fulfilled a lifelong dream for Ohio-native Graham Rahal.

  9. Graham Rahal now trails Montoya by nine points in IndyCar standings

    Aug 2, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT

    Juan Pablo Montoya Juan Pablo Montoya

    Montoyas 42-point lead over Rahal all but disappears in one race.

  10. Karam’s Mid-Ohio spin triggers frustration, skepticism from IndyCar paddock

    Aug 2, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT

    150803_SageKaram Getty Images

    Sage Karam in the crosshairs again after controversial Lap 66 spin at Mid-Ohio.

  11. Justin Wilson finishes second at Mid-Ohio, best result in two years

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:53 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Wilson earns first podium finish since Houston in 2013.

  12. Rahal scores dream win on home soil in Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 4:02 PM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Quick thinking from Rahal’s strategists allows the Ohio native to storm to his second win of the 2015 season and slice the gap to Montoya in the championship race.

  13. Helio Castroneves leads halfway through the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:12 PM EDT

    Castroneves

    Castroneves led at halfway due to off-setting pit strategy.

  14. Lynn hopes GP2 win has put him in running for F1 seat

    Aug 2, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    Alex Lynn has made an impression during his rookie GP2 season, but can he make the step up to F1 in 2016?

  15. Dennis frustrated by lack of in-season testing in F1

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 06:  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of McLaren Group Ron Dennis is seen during qualifying for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 6, 2015 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images) Getty Images

    McLaren’s CEO feels the reasons behind limiting in-season testing offer a “false economy”.

  16. WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy 200 at 1:30 p.m. ET on CNBC, Live Extra

    Aug 2, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay AP

    Watch live from Mid-Ohio ahead of the 14th round of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

  17. WRC: Latvala claims record-breaking win at Rally Finland

    Aug 2, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Finnish Volkswagen Polo R WRC driver Jari-Matti Latvala and co-pilot Miikka Anttila drive during the Ouninpohja special stage of the  2015 FIA World Rally Championship WRC Rally Finland in Jyvaeskylae, Finland on July 31, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / LEHTIKUVA / Vesa Moilanen +++ FINLAND OUT        (Photo credit should read VESA MOILANEN/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Latvala wins on home soil for the second time in the WRC with a record-breaking display.

  18. What to watch for: IndyCar at Mid-Ohio (1:30 p.m. ET, CNBC and Live Extra)

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio - Day 3 Getty Images

    What to watch for ahead of Round 14 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy 200 from the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

  19. Hunter-Reay fastest in final Mid-Ohio warm up despite spinning out

    Aug 2, 2015, 10:24 AM EDT

    © INDYCAR © INDYCAR

    Hunter-Reay finishes on top ahead of Helio Castroneves and Jack Hawksworth despite crashing his car.