Kyle Petty’s book on NASCAR, father Richard Petty, son’s death

We will never leave here alive.

That’s what Kyle Petty had in mind one day circling a dirt road in Pender County, North Carolina. As Kyle remembers, he was 18 at the time and had just started racing – as the grandson of racing legend Lee Petty and son of Richard Petty, the most winning Cup series driver in history, Kyle was promised some “Show money” was paid in cash ahead of the event he drove to.

“The Petty Grandpa” caused a stir among some fans by instructing Kyle not to unload the car from the truck until the money arrived. The story features Lee Petty smoking on his pipe in his uniquely calm and powerful way, responding to a fan who got in his face: “We’ll unload (the car) when we’re damned.”

“We jumped into the truck, locked the door, and got out of there, and we didn’t slow down until we had a safe view of Pender County in the rear window,” Kyle recalled.

You can imagine Kyle Petty shaking, laughing and shaking his head at the same time as he tells his story about NASCAR’s first family, one of many families he shares in his new memoir, turn or die.

The book, which hit stores Tuesday, is, as you might expect, a love letter to NASCAR, but it’s also about Kyle Petty as a curious son, a fearless driver, a grieving father and all he has. The definitive description of the life of other nicknames was picked up when he was 62 years old.

The Observer’s Alex Zitello spoke with Petty about the writing of the book — which goes on sale on Tuesday, August 9 — and the toll it took on the former NASCAR driver. Some questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

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NASCAR Cup Series driver, musician and father Kyle Petty talks about “Petty’s Growth.”Jeff Sinner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Kyle Petty becomes ‘The Outsider’

Zitlow: What was your favorite part of writing this book?

mean: do you know? I think my favorite part is actually sitting down and writing some and having someone look at it and say, “Hey, that’s not bad.” (laugh.) But no, I think my favorite part of it was walking back down that road and seeing some of the good times and some of the fun things that happened.

Zitlow: In the introduction to the book, you wrote, “I’ve been called an outsider, someone who is knowledgeable, someone who isn’t afraid to give his opinion.” What exactly do you mean?

mean: You know, when I was in third grade, I started traveling with my dad in the summer. A lot of times, it’s just me, him and the staff. Watch Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Isaac and David Pearson and be with these guys when you were 8 or 9 – like you’re listening you don’t even know you’ are listening.

You are learning and you don’t even know you are learning. So I’ve been around for so long that you feel like you’re an insider. At the same time, you sometimes don’t conform to what they expect you to comply with. (laugh.) You may grow your hair a little longer. You can play golf, play music, do different things. Like, “He might know all this stuff, but he doesn’t really pay attention to it.” He’s external, that kind of thing. It’s a way of looking at it.

I also tell people: If you get a chance to interview my grandfather and ask him five questions.And then you have a chance to sit down with my dad and ask him the same five questions and then the same five questions to me – and then Adam comes in and asks you after we all leave Adam The same five questions – you’ll have 20 different answers.

You scratch your head and say, “I don’t even think these four know each other.” You know what I mean? It’s not that we’re trying to be different. It’s just that we are allowed to be different. …it’s interesting that we all chose the same career, but we all took different paths, all had different successes, and we all measured our successes in different ways. I guess you could say we’re a weird bunch of people, of course, when you see Petty’s crowd.

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1992 file photo: Kyle Petty and Davey Allison battle for the checkered flag on a wild final lap, Allison winning but crashing and then having to be cut from his car.Mark Sruder Observer file photo

Petty bourgeoisie: ‘It’s all family’

Zitlow: There are many compelling, honest and funny childhood anecdotes in the book. You call it “Growing Petty.” Do you have memories that you shared with your grandfather and father, especially ones you want your audience to remember?

mean: yes and no. I think we pretty much shared a memory with that dirt bike when my grandfather got kicked in the ass by pretty much every racing fan on the track because he didn’t want me to unload the car unless we got paid. …no doubt everything we did in our early years, we did honestly, until I left to drive to Felix, it was family. It was Lee Petty, Richard Petty, Maurice Petty and Kyle Petty. It’s all family.

Zitlow: I’m going to include Morris in that question. It’s fun to get to know your uncle as a child.

mean: People don’t think about him that much because he doesn’t drive. He started driving and left it. And I think if he had chosen that route, things might have been different. But make no mistake: he was the first person to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as an engine manufacturer, you can see my dad was in first class, my grandfather was in, but my uncle – a lot of people believe the same Thing, I’m biased too, he should be in the hall of fame for what he did for everything my grandfather did and everything my dad did, how he changed the sport and how he changed the engine – Builder character of.

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2018 AP FILE PHOTO: NASCAR rookie Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. (right) races for one of the sport’s legends and Kyle Petty’s father Richard Petty (left) during the first three years of his career.Matt Slocum Associated Press

Public disclosure of the death of his son Adam

Zitlow: After learning that your son Adam passed away in May 2000, this is an opportunity to give an authoritative account of your thoughts and feelings. It’s interesting to see what you do and don’t focus on. For example, you didn’t give much thought to the decision to drive car number 45 in his absence. What retells the whole experience more than 20 years later?

mean: Yes, that was the hardest part. You start by asking, “What’s the best part?” I think the Adam stuff, and the stuff about my Uncle Randy, I think that’s the hardest part. That’s the worst part. Sometimes I’ll work on it, and then I’ll put it away and you’ll say, “I’ve got to get back to that place in a few weeks. I can’t handle it right now.”

I know anyone who’s lost a child knows this: you think you put it somewhere, you think you put it away, you think you’ve dealt with it – until you have to talk about it and it comes up again. And it never gets easier. It removes its sharpness. Time has taken the sharp edge out of the pain, but it’s still there. …

I realized that during those years, there were five, six, seven years when I was in a very dark place. I went to consult. I am trying to get treatment and trying to get help. The help is there, but you’re still in a bad place. After all these years, I feel like I’ve made peace with it. But come back to talk and think carefully, and bring back a lot of unhappiness and darkness for a while.

But then writing it down, putting it on paper, I never thought to do it, never dreamed of it — and then I ended up doing an audio version, standing in a booth with a guy behind closed doors, no windows, and reading aloud — Incredibly emotional. I would just crash at the booth. It’s incredibly exciting to read these words again. …

Writing it down on paper helps a lot. Then reading it aloud helps a lot. I don’t think I’ll take it, I’ll never be able to fully heal it, it’s here to stay. I hope it’s always there. I’ve said it before: As long as the way I hurt me, I know Adam is still with me somewhere.

But at least it feels like I’m starting a journey that I put on hold 20 years ago. …that’s the benefit of coming out of the dark.

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Kyle Petty with wife Morgan and sons Overton (2) and Cotton (5 months) in 2020. Petty said he also added another boy to the world, Davente, to go with his three other children: Adam, Austin and Montgomery Lee.Boonetown Story Photography

Where Petty still needs to go in NASCAR

Zitlow: Near the end, you start talking about where NASCAR needs to go. You wrote, “Any problem that arises in the U.S. will eventually find its way to NASCAR.” Given your connection to NASCAR’s origins, do you feel obligated to have an opinion on the future of NASCAR?

mean: I don’t know if I feel “responsible” from this perspective. But I do believe that my grandfather was a pioneer in the sport, my father was the most successful driver in the sport, I grew up in it, I lost a son – I believe I at least have some kind of platform to be able to and it speaks. Because I see too much.

Whether it’s the racial issues we encounter. Whether it’s a green issue. Whether it’s where the sport is going or its future, my opinion is based on my life. you know what I mean? This is not what I read in the book. It’s something I’ve experienced in some way, shape or form. In some circles, this gives these opinions more credibility.In many circles, they have Do not Credibility, that’s okay too. (laugh.) They are all just opinions. But I’m not afraid to speak my voice. …

NASCAR has always had relevant capabilities. Relevant to the times, changing like a chameleon, being what the audience needs, it needs to serve, and be successful. They continued to do so, as evidenced by the cars we have today – in a completely different direction. Play at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Take to the streets of Chicago with the announcement. These are things the sport never saw 15, 20 years ago. …

We embrace change now. We are inclusive. We are open as a sport and that will foster growth. And (the title) “Turn or Die” contains that at the same time.

About this book

title: Steer or Die: Living at My Speed ​​in NASCAR’s First Family

author: Kyle Petty and Ellis Henican

Release Date: Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Book signing: Wednesday, August 10, 6-8pm, Books A Million, 8301 Concord Mill Blvd., Concord, NC

Alex Zietlow writes for The Observer about NASCAR, Charlotte FC and the way sports intersect with life in the Charlotte area, where he has served since August 2022 reporter. Zitlow’s work has also been recognized by the North Carolina and South Carolina Press Associations as an APSE, where he was a top 10 finisher in the Beat Writing and Short Feature categories in the 2021 writing competition. He previously wrote for the Rock Hill Herald from 2019-22.

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