How Richard Petty’s First Career NASCAR Win Came Thanks to Dad Lee (and Rex White)

Jackson Wheeler
8 Min Read


  • Richard Petty made four starts in 1960 before the first of his 200 official victories.
  • And just as Lee had played a role at Lakewood, in what was nearly Richard’s first win, he was also involved when his son officially won.
  • So was Rex White.

Just 21 and still learning on the job, Richard Petty was understandably overjoyed when he took what he thought was the first checkered flag of his NASCAR Cup Series career. This was in June of 1959 in a 150-lap race on the 1-mile dirt at Lakewood Speedway near Atlanta.

The future king of stock car racing didn’t get to enjoy the “first victory” moment for long. Officials quickly told him the second-place finisher had protested the scoring, claiming it was reversed. The man protesting the scoring: future three-time champion and Hall of Fame driver Lee Petty, father of the apparent winner.

After a review of the scorecards, officials decided Lee was right and flip-flopped the official finish. It happened like this:

Lakewood was a “Sweepstakes” race for convertibles and sedans. Richard drove a 1959 Oldsmobile convertible and Lee drove a 1959 Plymouth sedan. The purse paid an extra $250 if the winner was in a convertible and an extra $450 if the winner drove a current year-model sedan.

richard petty first nascar winning car 1959

RacingOne//Getty Images

Safety inspectors today would have a field day when looking at Richard Petty’s convertable he raced in 1959.

Ever the businessman, Lee realized Petty Enterprises would earn $200 more since he drove a current year-model sedan. For a family-owned company on a budget, that was big money. “Second was the best I’d ever run, so I was tickled,” Richard said years later. “Daddy explained that we’d make more money if he won and we needed every bit we could get. It didn’t matter that much to me. I knew that at some point that extra money might help me finally win. I think the scorers got it right.”

The next day, in the Atlanta Constitution, a sportswriter quoted Lee as saying, “Either way, we’re 1-2 … and I won. He’s my boy and I’d love to see him win, but when he does, I want him to earn it. I would have protested my mother if I’d needed to.”

Richard made 21 starts that season with six top-5 finishes, nine top-10 finishes, 15th in points, and Rookie of the Year.

rex white

RacingOne//Getty Images

There is more than one version of the role Rex White played to help Richard Petty to Petty’s first NASCAR Cup Series win in 1960.

Rex White’s Role in Richard’s First Win

Richard Petty made four starts in 1960 before the first of his 200 official victories. And just as Lee had played a role at Lakewood, he was also involved when his son officially won.

It came on Feb. 28, 1960 in a 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt Charlotte Fairgrounds. Richard qualified seventh in his No. 43 Plymouth and ran, staying near the front. With 18 laps remaining, front-runner Rex White hit a Turn 1 pothole and lost his intended line. That allowed second-running Richard to pass and lead the rest of the way.

It looked at first glance like a typical late-race pass: leader hits a bad spot, loses his line, gets passed, and loses a race he should have won. It happened back in the day, when dirt-track conditions sometimes helped determine outcomes. At the time, the White-Petty pass seemed like no big deal.

But there’s more to the story.

Another version is that Lee, lapped and relief driving, clearly moved White aside to help Richard. Not surprisingly, Richard recalls it as clean while White maintains Lee knocked him aside.

“We’ll never know if I could have won,” said White, a 94-year-old Hall of Fame driver. “But I certainly was in contention until Lee hit me. I never had any confrontation or disagreement with Richard through the years we raced. But I didn’t get along with Lee. Not one bit; no, sir. And I wasn’t the only one.”

When asked about the incident, Lee told a Charlotte Observer reporter: “I didn’t hurt Richard’s chances.”

White won six races that year and the championship by almost 4,000 points. After winning on the Charlotte dirt, Richard later at Martinsville and Hillsboro. He added 27 more top-10 finishes in 40 starts and finished second to White in final points.

After winning championships in 1954, 1958, and 1959, Lee finished sixth in 1960, his last full season. He was critically injured in a 1961 Daytona 500 qualifying wreck and made only six unfulfilling starts before retiring in 1964.

Ironically, that was the first of his son’s seven championship seasons.

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.

Lettermark

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.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, 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.
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