It makes me sad to think that the incoming generation of NASCAR fans won't know who Adam Petty is. It's been two short years and already his memory is beginning to fade amongst the fans in general. No one would dare let the memory of Dale Earnhardt burn out; you still see his number on shirts, hats, etc. And that's as it should be. We see tributes to the Man in Black everywhere; his fans don't want anyone to forget him. But what about the young man with the megawatt smile and bowl of Lucky Charms? If Adam hadn't been a Petty, would anyone remember him for anything other than being the first in a series of tragic losses in the NASCAR world?
I became an Adam Petty fan by accident. I knew little about the Petty's other than Richard Petty had been a tremendous driver and was the "King" of NASCAR and that his son, Kyle, drove the 44 Hot Wheels car. I was a Jeff Gordon fan only. I was already being to amass quite a collection of JG memorabilia when my freshman year in high school came to a close and the summer presented me with the opportunity to see a Busch race at the Gateway Raceway in St. Louis. So it wasn't Jeff Gordon, but it was a race. We almost didn't go, but the associate pastor of the church that owns the school I attended was a big Jeff Gordon fan and was volunteering at Gateway and set us up with tickets.
I had never followed Busch before and wasn't familiar with the drivers, but I needed a driver to cheer for. In the very first NASCAR magazine I ever had there were profiles on many of the people in the Winston Cup series, including drivers (there was a big picture of Jeff making it the reason I bought it), officials, owners, and families. In the sections on families, many of the young guys featured were BNG drivers, so I flipped through that section for the umpteenth time looking for a driver who caught my eye.
I stopped abruptly on a page with one very cute guy. Unfortunately, he looked too young to be a driver. With him was his brother, a tall boy with a round face and a huge, beautiful smile that revealed braces. The first one was Austin Petty and the other was Adam. After reading the clip on them, it said that Adam was looking to move up to Busch soon and I was disappointed until I remembered that the magazine was over two years old.
I raced to the computer and quickly ran a search on Adam Petty. I found his official web site and surprisingly couldn't find a picture of the guy in my magazine. I mean, the site was all about Kyle Petty's son, Adam; grandson of Richard Petty, but all the photos were of this tall, thin, cute guy with a brilliant smile. It was that smile that hooked me. I know everyone mentions his smile, but it was what was behind the smile making it so bright that got me. I got everything on Adam I could find before Race day came. The more I read and watched, the more I wondered if Adam was a Christian. I went back to his site and found out that he was.
I have since read interviews with Adam concerning his Christianity and they really impressed me. Many people say they are Christians but you would never know it by the way live and act; but you could tell just by watching Adam that there was something within him that made him different from the rest of the world. I am a diehard fan of Adam's for the same reason I am a diehard fan of Jeff's: They both "talk the talk and walk the walk".
On May 12, 2002, school ended for the day and I couldn't be happier: only two weeks until school got out for the summer and only a couple of months before the 2000 Carquest 250 at Gateway. My mom picked me up and delivered the news that took me a long time to recover from. Adam had been killed in crash during a practice run at the New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
In the days following the news, I made a black and red arm band with a large #45 on it. On top of the 45, it read: Adam Petty 1980-2000. I wore it for two weeks before I took it off and mounted it on the mantle in my room. One of the guys that my dad works with races at the local dirt tracks and asked that I make one for him. I did and he wore the next time he went to the track
Later in July, Carquest 250 time rolled around. In May I didn't want to go and you couldn't make me, but then something I saw in the paper made me change my mind. Kyle Petty was going to do an autograph signing at the Sprint PCS building in O'Fallon a few days before the race in which he would be driving Adam's car. I had become of fan of Kyle's also because he just seemed like a cool, Christian guy. I thought that if Kyle could race so soon after his son's death, then I could go to the race. I'm so glad I did. My dad and I went to the autograph signing. I wore the first Adam Petty T-shirt I had ever gotten and took my top-of-the-line 1:24 die-cast model of Adam's Winston Cup debut car. I got my picture taken with Mr. Petty, who will forever be one of my all-time favorite people, and he signed the roof of the car right on top of the 45.
That car now sits in a place of honor amongst my Jeff Gordon cars and other JG things that are on display on the top shelf on my computer desk. On the door entering my room, is several posters of Jeff Gordon, pictures of Kurt Warner and one of JD Drew, But crowning it all with a few glow-in-the-dark stars is a picture of Adam.
The thing I feared the most in the time after Adam's death was forgetting him. I had taped all the memorials to him and bought all the magazines with tributes in them. The first anniversary of his death fell on the day of my Junior Banquet but I made sure to wear the armband during the day as well as one of his race shirts.
And to this day, if someone asks me who my favorite drivers are, I say: Jeff Gordon and Adam Petty.
July 10th is approaching once again. As you remember Dale Earnhardt and the others who have died in the world of sports: Tony Roper, Kenny Irwin, Kory Stringer, and Darryl Kile, remember also Adam, who touched many lives in nineteen short years.