FLORENCE, S.C. — Kyle Petty, grandson of Lee Petty, son of Richard Petty and father of Adam Petty — has been around NASCAR and racetracks since he was three weeks old and knows a story or two — dozen, hundred or maybe thousand.
After years of being urged to write a book to tell his stories he has done just that — “Swerve or Die: Life at My Speed in the First Family of NASCAR Racing” — and Pee Dee residents will get three chances over Race Weekend to get a copy and get it autographed at the same time.
“Kyle is full of stories,” Morgan Petty said of her husband. “Every time he is around people he’s like ‘I have this crazy story and you’re not going to believe it,’ and everybody just starts laughing.”
“He’s been told for years and years he needs to write a book,” Morgan Petty said. “Then COVID started. He’d been on the road since hew as 6 or 7 years old and all of a sudden he’s just at home and he’s not going anywhere. Everything he did revolved around human interaction and nobody was doing anything.”
“One day he was working on one of his short stories and I told him why don’t you write a book. Now’s the time. You have all this free time on your hands. You’re not going anywhere. You’re working from home,” she said.
“That’s kind of it,” he said. “When the pandemic hit Morgan was pregnant with our second child. When it hit no one knew how it affected pregnancy. No knew how pregnant women would react so we just locked down; we didn’t go anywhere. I was already writing and getting up in the mornings about 5:30 and playing guitar and writing songs.”
“I told her I’m going to write it down,” Petty said.
“I have written songs and played music since I was 12. I just did. I don’t know why and I don’t know how. I saw Marty Robbins play the guitar and I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I write about that in the book,” Petty said.
“The first story I wrote we sent to the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest run-on sentence with no punctuation,” Petty said. “That’s how proficient I was at writing. I could write a verse or a chorus, they didn’t need punctuation.”
Petty wrote a couple of stories his wife edited and the two realized more help was needed.
“I got up with Ellis Hennigan who helped Michael Waltrip with his book,” Petty said. “Ellis brought order to a chaotic world.”
The two worked for a year and a half on the book. Sometimes for an hour or two at a time and sometimes for a day or two at a time when they could work together.
“It gave me a purpose,” Petty said. “My purpose was to keep my wife safe and to keep my kid safe but at the same time it gave me something else to think about and not sit and worry.”
“So many of the memories were just so much fun. So many good memories of race fans, growing up with my dad, driving a race car, meeting people, it was just good. They were great memories,” he said.
“Then there were memories, my uncle Randy (Owens)was killed at Talladega when I was 14. (Son) Adam was killed in 2000 (while practicing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway),” Petty said.
“Those memories, I wasn’t afraid to go see them, because I had dealt with them. I understood them. I had put them in a place where I could move forward. But 20 years past that point with Adam, when I opened up that box of memories, I realized everything happened 15 minutes ago and it was still fresh, incredibly fresh and it crippled me, it brought me to my knees,” Petty said. “That part took a long time to get through, it was too raw, 20 years had not been long enough.”
That writing, though, was cathartic for the racer.
“After working through that part of the book about Adam I’m probably in a better place today than I was then,” Petty said. “If you enjoy the book and people enjoy the book, good. But in the end, the book was good for me emotionally and for my mental health it — was good for me. It gave me the opportunity to go back and deal with someting that I may have never gone back down that road because I truly believed I’d already dealt with it, but I hadn’t.”
His family connections gave Petty a front-row seat, and sometimes the driver’s seat, for a lot of motor racing history.
“It’s funny because I grew up with Richard Petty, that was my father. I started going to the track so early with my dad and hanging out with Davey Allison, Ricky and Larry Pearson, Julie Yarborough, D.J. and all of Cale’s daughters and I realized that I grew up with Cale Yarborough, I grew up with David Pearson, I grew up with Davey Allison. Those guys were just as much a part of my early life,” Petty said.
Petty raced with close to five generations of drivers from Dale Earnhart Sr. to Joey Logano before he retired to the broadcast booth.
“When you think about it that way it’s crazy. When you think about it that way you think wow, he’s a really old guy. That’s OK too,” Petty said. “It’s funny because I’m 62 years old and I started young with my dad — that’s NASCAR. That’s the way fans start going to races, with their dads.”
Those fans, much like Petty, get to experience five or more generations of drivers.
“I started in the ’60s as a fan and here we are in 2022 I’m still a fan,” he said.
“It’s been a fun life. There have been good times and bad times. There have been really high highs and really low lows,” Petty said. “I wouldn’t change anything.”
“I don’t know anyone in NASCAR who has seen and done what he’s seen and done,” his wife said. “His grandfather Lee was there at the very beginning. He went to Daytona when he was three weeks old. He witnessed everything, witnessed his dad race with (David) Pearson and Cale (Yarborough) and Bobby (Allison) and all those guys and then Kyle came along and raced against them.”
Fans will get three chances in Florence and Darlington to get a copy of the book and to get it autographed.
“At Barnes and Noble there in Florence, I’m going to be at South of Pearl Saturday night playing there and signing some books, ” Petty said. “That’ll be a little more intimate. I’m going to play some music to so I’m always looking forward to paying music, and then at the Chevy hauler at the racetrack.
Barnes & Noble will be Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., South of Pearl will happen Saturday immediately after the Xfinity Race ends and no time has been set for Sunday at the track.
The schedule will be posted to kylepetty.com.
“Everyone who reads says they feel like they’re sitting down with Kyle at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and that he’s just talking about his life and crazy stories,” Morgan Petty said.
“I just hope people enjoy it,” Kyle Petty said of his book.
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