It was 77 years ago today — July 2, 1937 — that a baby was brought into this world in Level Cross, North Carolina.
Mom Elizabeth and father Lee were proud of their first born, who would be joined a few years later by younger brother Maurice.
Together, the brothers would go on to follow in father Lee’s footsteps and form the most successful race team in NASCAR history.
And young Richard would go on to become the winningest driver in NASCAR history, earning 200 victories, a mark that will likely never be reached again (next closest is fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson, with 105 wins) – and which included a record seven wins in the sport’s biggest race, the Daytona 500.
It’s no wonder he earned the nickname of “The King.”
Happy 77th birthday, Richard Lee Petty!
Petty also went on to win to become the first driver to earn seven NASCAR Cup championships, later to be joined by the late Dale Earnhardt. Both men were charter inductees in the first class to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
This is a very special weekend for Petty in more ways than just his special birthday.
Friday marks the 30th anniversary of his 200th and last career Cup win in the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway, a race that was attended by then-President Ronald Reagan, who personally congratulated Petty after the race, which Petty considers one of the high marks of his lengthy and star-studded career.
And two weeks from now – on July 18 – Petty will celebrate the 56th anniversary of his first official race, held at CNE Stadium in Toronto, Canada.
He’d go on to win NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1959, the same year that father Lee went on to win the first race ever held at Daytona International Speedway and what would go on to become the biggest event in the sport’s history, the Daytona 500.
Sadly, Richard will celebrate his 77th without his lifelong love, Lynda, who died earlier this year on March 25 at the age of 72 from a long illness. The couple had been married for 55 years.
Let’s all wish The King a happy 77th — for NASCAR wouldn’t have become what it is today without the pride and joy of Level Cross.
Check out the videos below of Petty’s final win as well as a great and touching montage of his illustrious career.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski