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

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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

Nearly 25 drivers already set for 2018 Indy 500… in mid-November

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Friday’s announcement that Danica Patrick would end her full-time driving career with a run in the 102nd Indianapolis 500, after also running the Daytona 500 in January, is another shot in the arm for the 2018 marquee event of North American open-wheel racing.

Surprisingly, it keeps the grid moving forward too to where nearly 75 percent of the 33 cars are already set… in mid-November, 2017.

Early confirmations of programs for the next year’s Indianapolis 500 aren’t new, but they’re seemingly coming earlier than normal this year, with a number of expected programs getting announced in the fall of 2017.

Coupled with the fact most of the IndyCar full-season grid for 2018 is set, it’s interesting to take a look at what’s already set for next year.

CONFIRMED FULL-SEASON (19)

The only things to add here are Dale Coyne Racing’s second driver in the No. 19 Honda, the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in its No. 20 Chevrolet who may or may not be able to get an Indianapolis 500 extra seat in a third car, and the expected confirmation of Carlin’s graduation into IndyCar after three seasons in Indy Lights.

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (2, Honda): Scott Dixon, Ed Jones
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (2, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

CONFIRMED PARTIAL SEASON/INDY ONLY (4)

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Juncos Racing (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Danica Patrick

Here’s where it gets interesting. Castroneves is Team Penske’s confirmed fourth, and Juan Pablo Montoya could be a hypothetical fifth if the stars align – but it’s not in the immediate plans at this moment.

Patrick also makes her somewhat surprising Indianapolis comeback and with Penske, Andretti Autosport and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing not fielding her, the stars are aligned for her to drive with Chip Ganassi Racing in what would be a third car. Neither Patrick nor Ganassi said it’s happening today, but Ganassi acknowledged discussions, via NASCAR Talk.

Wilson finally gets his Indianapolis 500 shot with Andretti a year later as its fifth car. The team ran six last year, with the two Indy-only entries coming in separate partnership efforts between McLaren and Honda (Fernando Alonso) and Michael Shank Racing (Jack Harvey).

Jack Harvey is a very intriguing story for how he’ll be racing next year. NBC Sports understands a working relationship is being hatched between Shank and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with Harvey bringing a program on behalf of AutoNation/SiriusXM to grow his role into a third-to-half season of racing, this could slot in nicely as SPM’s third car. While not “officially” confirmed, it would not be a surprise to see news revealed from the concerned parties in December.

How could Harvey become SPM three when SPM three was already announced, you ask? With the Calmels Sport with SPM program reportedly on thin ice after negative press, the unlikely union of the French team owner Didier Calmels, one-time open-wheel driver turned-sports car veteran Tristan Gommendy and SPM appears set to join the “announced and dropped before ever turning a wheel” club.

Kaiser’s four-race program with Juncos Racing was announced last month and the Indy Lights champion will likely have Chevrolet power, given the team’s existing relationship from 2017.

WHAT’S STILL TO COME

Playing it out a bit with the usual, “how many engines can each manufacturer provide” story, we know Honda ran 18 cars this year and was stretched to capacity, leaving Chevrolet with the remaining 15.

Work the math from here. Provided Carlin officially announces its entry (it still hasn’t to this point, but is known to have hired IndyCar personnel) and with Honda already stretched between its 12 previously announced full-season cars (4 Andretti, 2 Ganassi, 2 RLL, 2 SPM, 2 Coyne), with a 13th engine available at some races, Carlin would have to be at Chevrolet.

For Indianapolis, Honda already begins to work its car count further beyond those 13 (if SPM 3 gets added for more races) with Ganassi 3 (a TBD, but would be Patrick if confirmed here) and Andretti 5 (Wilson) to get to 15, which leaves just three leases at play to get to 18… again, this is in mid-November.

Provided Pippa Mann can work towards her annual appearance with Coyne, factor in a possible sixth Andretti car and an 18th Honda lease – perhaps a third car at RLL or fourth at Ganassi, SPM or Coyne – and suddenly the Honda inn would already be booked up.

Chevrolet would have the rest, and you can figure out the math from there.

It may only be mid-November, but the race to secure a berth on the grid for next May is already well underway.