Mar 26, 2014, 12:54 AM EDT
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
Sep 16, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Lajoie will run his first Cup race at New Hampshire, while Justin Boston will drive for Joe Gibbs Racing at Kentucky and Dover in the Nationwide Series.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
Will experience or hunger help him capture his 2nd Sprint Cup title? The NASCAR AMERICA gang debates the topic.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
NBC Sports legal analyst Jack Furlong breaks down what could happen now that a grand jury will decide whether Stewart will face charges for his involvement in the accident that killed sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The nine-turn Port of Los Angeles circuit will feature the longest joker of the 2014 GRC season.
Sep 16, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Teams now know what radio messages can and cannot be made heading into this weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Also coming up today: What’s more important in winning a Sprint Cup title: Experience or Drive?; rookie phenom Kyle Larson on dealing with the hype; NASCAR pioneer Wendell Scott to be honored next month.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The Russian driver will continue his rehab work in Indy after sustaining multiple injuries in a practice crash on Aug. 29 at Auto Club Speedway.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The three-time NASCAR champion responds that he intends to “continue to provide my full cooperation.”
Sep 16, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT
OAK Racing to return to FIA WEC for three of last four races.
Sep 16, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Sprint Cup driver David Ragan and Camping World Truck Series driver Darrell Wallace Jr. will sport special paint schemes honoring Scott during the Martinsville Chase weekend in October.
Sep 16, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Videos from the Pirelli World Challenge championship celebration highlight 25 years, and the 25th year (2014) of the championship.
Sep 16, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as NASCAR enters the second race of the Chase’s Challenger Round.
Sep 16, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Reports from Australia peg the season-opening race having posted an A$60 million loss in 2014.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:25 PM EDT
CFH Racing reveals logo and will reveal a part of its 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series program on Wednesday.
Sep 16, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Corvette Racing and Corvette DP teams look for Austin win encore this weekend.
Sep 16, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Expect the 100 kg fuel limit to enter the equation this weekend, says Renault’s head of track operations.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:28 AM EDT
Sergio Perez looks to go 4-4 in Singapore scores.
Sep 16, 2014, 9:52 AM EDT
Michael Waltrip and partner Emma Slater look to avoid being eliminated after first dance effort on DWTS.
Sep 15, 2014, 10:54 PM EDT
Tony Stewart is expected to learn later this week if he will not face charges or may be indicted in last month’s Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy. A noted attorney with extensive experience in death and catastrophic injury cases explained to MST the legal process in Stewart’s case.
Sep 15, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
In his first-ever race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Aric Almirola suffered a blown engine at Chicagoland Speedway for the first time in his three-year career.
Video from NASCAR America
- NASCAR AMERICA: One Sprint Cup title not enough for Brad Keselowski (VIDEO) 0
- IndyCar’s Mikhail Aleshin released from Indianapolis hospital 0
- DA will submit evidence from Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. case to grand jury 12
- Renault’s Taffin: Fuel consumption could well be an issue in Singapore 1
- Jeff Gordon makes strong ‘Drive For Five’ start, also has high praise for Kyle Larson in Chase opener 2
- Keselowski surges between Harvick, Larson to win Chase opener at Chicagoland 0
- For 16 Sprint Cup drivers, the time is here: ready, set, Chase 0