Unfortunately, this day in history is a dark and tragic one for fans of NASCAR.
NASCAR involves cars whipping around a track at about 200 miles per hour. While there have been improvements in the overall safety of the sport, freak accidents can still happen. Neil Bonnett, Rodney Orr, Dale Earnhardt, and Kenny Irwin Jr. are just a few that lived out the last lap of their life while racing on the track.
On May 12, 2000, Adam Petty, the grandson of racing legend Richard Petty and son of driver Kyle Petty, died in a car crash.
Adam Petty’s Tragic Crash
Adam Petty, a fourth-generation NASCAR driver, was killed in a practice crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The throttle of his car got stuck right as he was about to do a tight turn. This caused his car to slam into the outside wall at full speed. He was killed instantly. Petty had a basilar skull fracture because his head and neck both snapped forward upon impact.
As his crash was still being investigated, another racer was killed in the same spot on the track for the exact same reason. Kenny Irwin Jr. also had a stuck throttle and his car ended up flipping on its side. Sadly, he also passed away from a head injury.
After these two deadly crashes, NASCAR placed a mandate that each car needed a switch to shut off the engine placed on the steering wheel. Restrictor plates were also placed in the engines of all the cars. One of the biggest issues for NASCAR was head and neck injuries, however. NASCAR wouldn’t require head and neck restraints until Dale Earnhardt’s tragic crash in 2001 at the Daytona 500.
According to Yahoo! Sports, the Petty family started a camp in loving memory of Adam Petty. It is called Victory Junction, which is a camp specifically for children with medical conditions or illnesses. There is a massive model of Adam’s car sitting outside of the camp. Kyle Petty raced as No. 45 after Adam Petty’s tragic death for the rest of his career.
Richard Petty is perhaps the most successful stock car driver of all time with over 200 wins. He was known as “The King” and even did voice acting for the movie Cars, making him that much more recognizable.
A Rising NASCAR Star
Not only was he a part of a legendary racing family, but Adam Petty was also proving he was quite the racer himself.
He started his career in NASCAR in 1998 at Gateway in St. Louis. He continued with several Xfinity Series races before finally getting a chance in the Cup Series.
Petty made his first Cup Series start on April 2, 2000. He lasted about 215 laps, but his engine failed and he finished in 40th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. got his first Cup Series victory that day instead. Sadly, it would be Adam Petty’s only Cup Series race of his career.
His appearance in the Cup Series made him the first fourth-generation family member to compete at the very highest level in a sport. His death was sudden, unexpected, and far too soon.
“He was just a kid, full of personality, full of life, always smiling, always joking, always with a big thing of bubble gum in his mouth. He was always blowing bubbles,” Kyle Petty said, according to an interview with BBC from 2015.
Kyle Petty said he had seen plenty of dangerous moments in the sport, but always had the pervasive thought, “it’s going to happen to somebody else, it’s never going to happen to you.” Kyle Petty said he wished his son would have played golf instead.
Kyle Petty remembered how hard it was to take a step back and let his son partake in the dangerous sport. “All of a sudden here’s your son in a car and you’re not there to protect him. I was a nervous wreck but at the same time you’re so proud of what he’s been able to do. Adam was a really good race car driver.”