Richard Petty’s Papa and the First Daytona 500

Lee Petty - Richard Petty's PapaOn this day in 1959, Richard Petty’s papa, Lee, won the first ever Daytona 500. Now most of you know that I’m not that interested cars, and that definitely includes auto racing. My father was a stock car racer when he was young. And I don’t much care for the danger, although certainly today it is far more safe.

Almost three years ago, I went to a NASCAR race, and wrote, NASCAR Culture and Sport. It did give me a better appreciation of the sport and for the people who like it. But it’s still not my thing. But I was struck by the fact that Lee Petty won the first first Daytona 500.

But isn’t it interesting that the first Daytona 500 was won by the father of the future stock car racing legend Richard Petty? That got me thinking about the idea of meritocracy — an idea that becomes more repugnant to me with each passing day. Let’s face it: Richard Petty didn’t go on to become one of the greatest stock car racers of all time because he got the right genes from his papa.

And we aren’t talking about money here either. I don’t even want to get into that, even though there is doubtless some of that as well. The truth is being in that environment, growing up and just being Lee Petty’s son, was the most important element in Richard Petty’s 200 Sprint Cup Series wins. Otherwise, he would have been just some hot rod driving teen who worked his whole life in a North Carolina manufacturing plant.

Richard Petty Got a Lot From Papa

We have got to get past this idea that the world is divided into the worthy and the unworthy. Our society needs to reward people only to the extent that people need to get along. In the race car driving sweepstakes, Richard Petty hit the jackpot. In the sexist pig category, he did really well too — and I’m not even talking about the recent Danica Patrick dustup. He’s also a racist I’m sure. But people don’t get judged in their totality. Instead, society decides that it is going to judge a couple of things above all else.

Well, Lee Petty and the environment he raised his sons in gifted Richard race car driving skills just as surely as bigotry. We can either accept both of those facts or we can deny them. But we can’t say he’s super keen because of his racing skills and isn’t it a shame that he grew up in a bigoted time and place.

4 thoughts on “Richard Petty’s Papa and the First Daytona 500

  1. Why can’t we say it is a shame he grew up around bigots?

    As for the rest of it-it is true that without some boosts in the right spot, it is a lot harder to get anywhere. Without her father being a former country music star, Miley Cyrus probably would not have been able to become the singer she is today. And there are thousands of these examples. Along with examples of just how hard it is to get anywhere without the boost at the right spot.

    • I only disagree with the word “probably.”

      One key to success is working for a long time. You not only get better, but you meet people who can help you. A lot of professions are like guilds. Once you get inside, work starts flowing toward you. I think being a star is just pure luck. Any professional could be a star under the right circumstances. Although I still wonder about Taylor Swift, who really can’t sing in key.

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