Remembering Richard Petty’s Starring Roles in Hollywood

Jackson Wheeler
6 Min Read

  • 43: The Petty Story was Richard Petty’s most ambitious movie role, it wasn’t his last.
  • The King also made a cameo in the 2008 film Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner .
  • Petty was easily identifiable voice as The King in Disney’s animated Pixar films Cars and later Cars 3.

Late in 1972, after appearing as himself in the forgettable movie 43: The Petty Story, seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty told the media that he’d made two movies that year. He briefly hesitated before explaining: “my first and I hope my last.”

Well, he missed slightly on that one. Several years earlier, in mid-1968, he’d made a cameo in Speedway, starring Elvis Presley, Nancy Sinatra, and Bill Bixby. In addition to Petty, there were minor roles for fellow racers Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Dick Hutcherson, Tiny Lund, G.C. Spencer, and Roy Mayne.

Although 43: The Petty Story was his most ambitious role, it wasn’t his last. He made a cameo in the 2008 film Swing Vote starring Kevin Costner and was an easily identifiable voice as The King in Disney’s animated Pixar films Cars and later Cars 3.

(Editor’s note: We found 43: The Petty Story posted by several fans on YouTube. And, yes, it’s so bad, it’s good!)

Some consider 43: The Petty Story a semi-documentary about how Lee Petty (played by Darren McGavin) created Petty Enterprises in 1949. The script focuses on its early years and Lee’s rise to stardom before retiring after his 1962 Daytona 500-related injuries. Many reviewers panned the film, criticizing the production itself, the “amateurish” acting, and the thin storyline.

On the other hand: Cars struck a far more favorable chord with America audiences. It was heavily promoted, especially during its premiere during Coca-Cola 600 weekend in Charlotte, N.C. in May 2006. It was released in theatres two weeks later to generally favorable reviews. Perhaps surprisingly, it was a box office success for Disney and its Pixar brand.

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From the late Roger Ebert: “The message in Cars is simplicity itself: Life was better in the old days.” From the Movie 20/20 review site: “Pixar’s animation is spectacular. The personalities and mannerisms of the different cars are all unique and very expressive. The film also does a great job creating the speed, intensity, and adrenaline of the races themselves, and the voice acting is also terrific.” Rolling Stone gave it three of four stars, saying, “Fueled with plenty of humor, action, heartfelt drama, and amazing new technical feats, ‘Cars’ is a high-octane delight for moviegoers of all ages.”

To great pre-release hype, Richard Petty was among a handful of racing-related personalities in the first Cars. The film included the voices of Mario Andretti, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Schumacher, Humpy Wheeler, and Paul Newman. It “starred” the voice of Owen Wilson and featured narrative from George Carlin, Bonny Hunt, and Tony Shalhoub.

But wait… there’s more: Tom Hanks had a voice-over role in Cars. So did Tim Allen, Michael Keaton, Jay Leno, Larry the Cable Guy, Billy Crystal, and Bob Costas.

The first “Cars” remains a huge part of Petty’s legacy, far more so than 43: The Petty Story. “Even now, people bring me lots of things to autograph that they got from the original Cars movie,” he said. “People seem to remember every line from that movie, everything that happened. Kids who never even knew I once drove a race car know me from the voice in those movies. That’s pretty special.”

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.

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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.
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