NASCAR's Kyle Petty, 'Never' Considered Stopping Racing After Son's Crash

Kyle Petty was raised on NASCAR. As a third-generation driver and the son of the winning-est driver ever, a record-setter in his own right and the father of a fourth-generation racer and further record breaker, racing is "part of [his] DNA." Kyle drove for Petty Enterprises, took over as its CEO and is now an NBC commentator, among other things. Along the way, he has endured the tragic death of his son Adam in a training accident, but maintained his love of racing and "always found a way to carry on." In this Q&A, Kyle talks about his own experiences, how he weathered the loss of his son, the controversy surrounding diversity at NASCAR and the sport's future.

In this combination image, Book jacket (L) and Kyle Petty in the garage prior to practice for the Advance Auto Parts 500. NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Martinsville Speedway April 8, 2005 Worth Canoy-ICON SMI. St. Martin's Press/Worth Canoy/Getty

What are NASCAR's biggest challenges today?

The biggest challenge for any sport or business in today's world is to be proactive and not reactive; to lead and not follow; and to be willing to change to make things better. I believe NASCAR has always done a great job of adapting to the new while still upholding tradition.

Are electric vehicles viable for competitive racing? How can NASCAR become more "green"?

Yes. Since the beginning, if two automobiles were ever in the same place, you had the potential for a race. As the automobile market changes, that's the one thing I don't see changing—no matter what type of automobile is made—as demonstrated by Formula E.

Of course, going "green" is a topic in practically every business on the planet at this point. People point their finger at motorsports for obvious reasons. I'm no expert on the subject, but I have faith that NASCAR has thoroughly considered and continues to consider its impact and will act accordingly, making changes for the better.

Diversity and inclusion have been hot topics for NASCAR. The Confederate Flag was banned at races in June 2020 after driver Bubba Wallace, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, called for the ban. Does that decision signal deeper change in the sport? Like what?

The title of my memoir,Swerve or Die, is a title I chose not only for myself, but for NASCAR as well. The sport has always been able to change direction and adjust to the political climate and the world around us. NASCAR has made great strides in making our sport welcoming to everyone who loves racing, while staying at the forefront of car culture as it continues to evolve. Racing belongs to everyone; if you have the heart of a racer, we want you here. For more than 70 years, NASCAR has adjusted to the times and continued to survive and flourish. I know it will continue to do so.

Kyle Petty checking in with Adam before the green flag falls at the Talladega Superspeedway in April 2000 before a Busch Series race. Kevin Kane Photography

After Adam died in a driving accident, did you reconsider racing?

No. Never. It never crossed my mind to stop racing. Instead, I felt called to continue racing, probably longer than I should have, for Adam. Since the day I was born, I've been around racing. It's part of my DNA. I'm from rural North Carolina and was raised in a mill and farming community, where even if the crops failed or the textile industry changed, you didn't just stop what you were doing. You adjusted and persevered because that's the only life you knew. Even when times were hard, even when tragedy struck, you always found a way to carry on. And that's what I did, too.

You founded Victory Junction, a free camp for kids with serious illnesses, in Adam's memory. What about it are you most proud of?

I think I'm most proud of the kids that have come through Victory Junction and all the things they have accomplished. Whether they catch their first fish, ride their first horse or complete a ropes course for the first time, it's amazing to see what they can do! In each kid that comes to camp, I see a piece of Adam in their smile. For me, in a selfish way, I think I take more away from Victory Junction than the kids do. I will always be grateful to them and their families for attending Victory Junction.

In this combination image, Dirt devil: Back to basics in Myrtle Beach,1979 and inset image, opening Victory Junction with Rick Hendrick, Paul Newman, TonyStewart, NCGovernor Mike Easley, Dad and Darren Singer, 2004KP personal collection/Kevin Kane Photography

NASCAR has been a family business for you. Did you feel pressured to join the business? What advice would you give to others finding their path?

There was never any pressure from my family to become a race car driver. Where I grew up, you were raised to do what your family did. My family might not have raised crops or cattle, but we did raise race cars. So that's what I always wanted to do, too. So many of my friends growing up became second- or third-generation farmers. I just became a third-generation race car driver.

There was never any outside pressure either. I saw giants like my dad, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough battle it out each week on the track, and I was captivated. I wanted to do what they did. That was my dream since I was a very little boy. I'm just fortunate enough that my dream came true.

I don't really know what advice I would give to others finding their path in NASCAR. Everyone comes to our sport in a different way. There's no right or wrong way. But there is one common denominator—the love of the sport. Nobody looks at racing as a job. They race because they love it.

You've been a driver, a businessman, a commentator, a musician. What role do you find most satisfying?

The role I find most satisfying at this point in my life is being a husband and father. Being at home with my wife, Morgan, and our three young boys, is the role I cherish most these days.

What's next for you?

That's a great question. I truly don't know. I grew up working on cars with my dad and grandfather. Then I became a part of my dad's pit crew before beginning on my own racing career. I was my dad's teammate, then competitor, before ultimately becoming his business partner. I became a racing analyst and now I do pre- and post-race commentating for NBC. At the same time, I've got a primetime TV series and still write songs and play music whenever I can. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I've learned to fly airplanes, I've ridden a bull, I flew around the world on the Concorde, I've ridden motorcycles all over this country and more.

I guess when I think about what's next, I just say I'm waiting for the next opportunity...for whatever comes along that I haven't done before. When I'm 90 or 100 years old, and someone asks me, "Have you ever done this?" I want to be able to say, "Yes, I did." I'll try anything once. I don't ever want to regret not doing something.