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

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.