How Petty Blue Became the Most Famous Color in NASCAR

Jackson Wheeler
4 Min Read

  • Sometime in the late 1950s, Richard Petty needed his car painted before a race.
  • “We had some blue paint and some white paint; not enough of either for the whole car.”
  • The shade of blue created became forever part of the Petty trademark, much like his cowboy hat and belt buckle.

As the story goes, the famous “Petty Blue” paint scheme was born of necessity. Richard Petty doesn’t remember the exact date—probably in the late 1950s—but he remembers his new team was rushing around, getting his car ready for an upcoming race.

“My car needed to be painted before we left home,” he recalls. “It was 2 or 3 in the morning, so we didn’t have time to tape it over to make it a two-tone. We had some blue paint and some white paint; not enough of either for the whole car. But we had enough so if we mixed them, we could paint the whole car one color.”

That last-minute solution created the light blue that distinguished many of Petty’s earliest cars. Sometimes called “Carolina Blue,” it became as much a part of his NASCAR identity as No. 43—which followed his father’s 42. But the team’s “trademark” changed in 1972, when Andy Granatelli offered his STP oil treatment as Petty’s sponsor. The only problem was that Granatelli wanted an all-red car and Petty was having none of that.

goodwood festival of speed

Michael Cole//Getty Images

Petty’s 1972 Dodge Charger color scheme was the result of a compromise between sponsor and driver.

They met in Chicago the week of the 1972 season-opener at Riverside Raceway. The contract was fine—reportedly an unprecedented $250,000 deal—until the clause saying the No. 43 would be Day-Glo red. When Petty threatened to kill the deal, Granatelli convinced him to stay overnight and reconsider.

Two weeks later, when the final contract arrived in North Carolina, it included a $50,000 bonus if Petty would drive all-red cars. He marked through that section and returned the signed contract to Granatelli. They met again before the Daytona 500 and agreed—well, so they said—on the familiar blue-and-red livery that became a NASCAR fixture for so long.

Editor’s note: This year, the Petty family is celebrating 75 years of NASCAR racing, and Autoweek is coming along for the ride with a series of “Petty 75” stories written by reporters who have been covering the King and his family for more than 50 of those years. In addition, be sure to check out the Petty family’s own social media channels throughout the year and join in the party. Content will be featured on the @therichardpetty, @pettybrothersracing, @kylepetty, @pettymuseum and @pettysgarage social media accounts as well as a soon-to-launch YouTube channel.


Unemployed after three years as an Army officer and Vietnam vet, Al Pearce shamelessly lied his way onto a small newspaper’s sports staff in Virginia in 1969. He inherited motorsports, a strange and unfamiliar beat which quickly became an obsession. 

In 53 years – 48 ongoing with Autoweek – there have been thousands of NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and APBA assignments on weekend tracks and major venues like Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, LeMans, and Watkins Glen. The job – and accompanying benefits – has taken him to all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.  

He’s been fortunate enough to attract interest from several publishers, thus his 13 motorsports-related books. He can change a tire on his Hyundai, but that’s about it.

Share This Article
Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
Leave a comment