Lee Petty Started a NASCAR Family Tree That Grew Many Branches

Jackson Wheeler
6 Min Read

  • Family patriarch Lee Petty was the new company’s owner of record when Petty Enterprises was created in 1949.
  • For most of the 50’s and into the 60s’, Lee Petty and son Richard Petty did the heavy lifting.
  • Since its founding, only a handful of people not named Petty have played significant roles in the company.

Everything revolved around one man when Petty Enterprises was created in 1949.

Family patriarch Lee Petty was the new company’s owner of record, its accountant, decision-maker, team manager, and lead driver. He ruled with aggressive authority, a tight-fisted grip that remained until his son, Richard, assumed control in the early 1960s.

Since its founding, only a handful of people not named Petty have played significant roles in the company. Petty Enterprises is gone today, swallowed up in recent years by complicated mergers with businessmen George Gillett and Andrew Murstein, and racers Ray Evernham, Robert Yates, Maury Gallagher, and Jimmie Johnson.

richard petty

RacingOne//Getty Images

By the age of 18, still three years before his NASCAR debut in 1958, Richard Petty was already entrenched in the family business.

Lee and Richard were Petty Enterprises’ only full-time drivers during its formative years, but the company occasionally fielded cars for others. It was, after all, a profit-driven company willing to take money from “outsiders.” For most of the 50’s and into the 60s’, though, Lee and Richard did the heavy lifting.

Things changed dramatically in 1961, when Lee suffered career-ending injuries in an over-the-wall crash during a Daytona 500 qualifying race. Suddenly, with Lee sidelined and his equipment available for a second team, Petty Enterprises opened itself to more than a dozen drivers, most of whom brought sponsorships.

The company fielded limited-schedule cars for Pete Hamilton and Buddy Baker in the early 1970s. With few exceptions, Richard and son Kyle (who never won at PE) were the company’s drivers throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s. Among those exceptions: Dick Brooks and Morgan Shepherd early in 1984, while Richard and musical producer Mike Curb worked together. Petty returned home in 1985 after the company temporarily shut down after two races.

richard petty and kyle petty

RacingOne//Getty Images

Kyle Petty, right, was a fixture as a driver at Petty Enterprises in the early 1980s, but he never won for the team. His first win came with the Wood Brothers in 1986.

Richard’s retirement after 1992 brought a busload of drivers to Petty Enterprises. From 1993 through its 2008 shutdown, 19 drivers drove PE-prepared cars. They ranged from Kyle and Adam Petty, the Labonte brothers, John Andretti, Bobby Hamilton, Christian Fittipaldi, and Wally Dallenbach Jr., to Chad McCumbee, Buckshot Jones, Jimmy Hensley, Rick Wilson, Boris Said, and Kenny Wallace.

Combined, they were 3-for-894, with Andretti winning once and Hamilton twice. Many of those 19 drivers brought sponsorship and lasted only a race or two.

A handful of “other Pettys” have tried racing, mostly without much success. Maurice’s son, Mark, did a few Craftsman Series starts and his other son, Ritchie, ran some Cup, Craftsman, and ARCA races. Timmy Petty, the eldest of Maurice’s sons, didn’t drive, but has spent a lifetime around engines and race setups.

But, Wait … There’s More

Maurice Petty raced briefly with modest success before becoming a Hall of Fame mechanic and crew chief for his famous brother. Kyle enjoyed a few good years, winning twice with the Wood Brothers and six times with Felix Sabates. (Sadly, his teen-age son, Adam, was killed in an Xfinity Series practice session early in his career). And now comes Richard’s grandson, 23-year-old Thad Moffitt, running the full Craftsman Truck Series next year.

From Lee Petty in 1949 to Thad Moffitt this year: 75 years of unparalleled excellence from the first family of NASCAR racing.

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 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.
Leave a comment