Richard Lee Petty is aptly named "The King." Over a racing career spanning 34 years, from 1958 to 1992, he was the first driver to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship seven times, while also winning a record 200 races, including the Daytona 500 a record seven times. Incredibly, he won a record 27 races (10 of them consecutively) in the 1967 season, alone. Statistically,he is the most accomplished driver in the history of the sport, and is one of the most respected figures in motor sports.
Petty began his NASCAR career on July 18, 1958- 16 days after his 21st birthday. His first race was held at CNE Stadium, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He was named NASCAR Rookie of the Year, after he produced 9 top 10 finishes, including six top 5 finishes. That year, he had participated in the inaugural Daytona 500.
1963 was his breakout year, winning at tracks like Martinsville ad Bridgehampton. In 1964, driving a potent Plymouth with a new Hemi engine, Petty won 9 victories, earning over $114,000 and his first Grand National championship.
Due to the Chrysler boycott of NASCAR, Petty spent much of 1965 competing as a drag racer in the new compact Barracuda. The car was very successful, winning its class at the Bristol Spring Nationals and competing in many match races against well-known racers such as Ronnie Sox and Don Nicholson.
Even after returning to NASCAR, once the Hemi was reinstated, Richard continued drag racing until early 1966. On February 27, 1966, he overcame a 2-lap deficit to win his second Daytona 500. In 1966, he won the first ever race at Middle Georgia Raceway. In 1967, Petty won 27 of the 48 races he entered, including a record 10 wins in a row. His dominance in this season earned him the nickname "King Richard." In 1968, Petty won 15 races including the last race at Occoneechee Speedway.
In 1969 Ford introduced the Ford Torino Talladega. The Talladega was specifically designed to give Ford a competitive race advantage by being more aerodynamic on super-speedway tracks. Petty switched brands to Ford, because Chrysler would not let him race the radically-designed Dodge Daytona. He would win 10 races and finish second in points.
Petty returned to Chrysler, in 1970, when he was allowed to race the Plymouth Superbird. On February 14, 1971, he won his third Daytona 500, making him the first driver to win the race 3 times. He won 20 more races (which would make him become the first driver to earn more than $1 million in career earnings) and claimed his 3rd Grand National Championship.
At the end of the 1971 season, Chrysler told the Pettys they no longer would receive direct factory funding. So, in 1972, he teamed up with STP. This became a successful 28-year sponsorship arrangement. Thanks to his top 10 finishes, Petty went on to win his 4th NASCAR CUP Series championship.
1972 was the last year where Petty would campaign a Plymouth. In the middle of the year, he debuted a 1972 Dodge Charger, winning one race. On February 18, 1973, Petty he won his 4th Daytona 500. A year later, Petty also won the Daytona "450" for the fifth time, in route to his 5th Winston Cup Championship.
1975 was another historic year for Petty, when he won the World 600 for the first time in his career- one of 13 victories in route to his 6th Winston Cup. The 13 victories is a modern (1972–present) NASCAR record for victories in a season. In 1976, he was involved in one of the most famous finishes in NASCAR history, where he finished in second place with a stalled engine, just yards from the finish line.
Oddly 1978 will stand out as the one year during his prime that Petty did not visit the winner's circle. The Petty Enterprises Team could not get the new 1978 Dodge Magnum to handle properly. Unhappy with the seven top-five and eleven top-ten finishes, Petty decided to race a second-hand 1974 Chevrolet Monte Carlo at at Michigan. Returning to General Motors proved successful, as Petty recorded six top-ten finishes in the final ten races of the 1978 season. He would go on to even better results in 1979. Petty won the Daytona 500 in an Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and ran most of the remaining races in a Chevrolet, winning four additional races and taking the NASCAR championship for the seventh, and last, time by 11 points.
Petty won two more Daytona 500s in 1979 and 1981. In 1979, he snapped a 45-race drought, winning his sixth Daytona 500.The win was part of Petty's seventh and last NASCAR Winston Cup Championship.
In 1980 Petty won two races early in the year at North Wilkesboro and Nashville but a crash at Pocono ended his championship hopes. He finished 4th in points
For 1981, NASCAR dictated that all teams had to show up with the new downsized cars of 110" wheel-base, that Detroit had been building since 1979. Though Petty had been successful with the Chevrolet and Oldsmobile cars he had been running, he wanted to get back to his Mopar roots. After taking a phone call from Lee Iacocca, the Petty team built a stunning 1981 Dodge Mirada and took it to Daytona in January 1981 for high speed tests. Unfortunately, the car could do no better than 186 miles per hour- about eight miles per hour slower than the GM and Ford cars. Petty gave up on returning to Dodge and bought a Buick Regal for the Daytona race. In the 1981 Daytona 500, Petty grabbed his seventh and final Daytona 500 win.
While the 1981 season gave Petty three wins, he felt the season was a failure, and the Regals being poor in handling and reliability. For 1982, he made the move to the Pontiac Grand Prix, with the promise of substantial factory support from Pontiac. 1982 was a repeat of 1978, and no victories were to be had. At first, the Grand Prix behaved much like the Dodge Magnum of 1978, with handling and speed problems. Toward the end of 1982, things improved with several top-10 finishes, which opened the door to a successful 1983 season with three victories, and several top-5 and top-10 finishes. In 1983, he broke his 43-race winless streak from 1982 with a win in the 1983 Carolina 500. After a controversial win at Charlotte, in October 1983, (recognized by NASCAR as win No. 198), Petty left the race team his father founded for the 1984 season. He spent '84 and '85 driving for Mike Curb before returning to Petty Enterprises in 1986.
On July 4, 1984, Petty won his officially-recognized 200th race at the Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway. In early 1988, Petty traveled to Australia to help promote a NASCAR exhibition race at the then new Calder Park Thunderdome.
On October 1, 1991, Petty announced he would retire after the 1992 season. His final top ten finish came at the 1991 Budweiser at the Glen. His year-long Fan Appreciation Tour took him around the country, participating in special events, awards ceremonies, and fan-related meetings.
The following year, he was back into a race car one more time. On August 18, 1993, NASCAR participated in a tire test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in preparations for the 1994 Brickyard 400. Petty drove several laps around the track, and then donated his car to the Speedway's museum.
Petty remains very active in the sport as both a NASCAR team owner (Richard Petty Motorsports) in the Cup Series, and owner of Petty's Garage (car restoration and modification shop) in Level Cross, North Carolina.
In 2010, he built 7 Richard Petty Signature Series supercharged Challengers. Also, he has modified many Hellcats to produce 1,000 horsepower.
2010 Richard Petty Signature Series Dodge Challenger - YouTube