Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It Won't Be Daytona without the King

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

It Won't Be Daytona without the King

Article excerpt

DAYTONA BEACH -- As you walk through the garage area here, there is something woefully wrong.

It is nighttime, and the cars are qualifying under the magnificence of a $5 million lighting system -- the equivalent, we are told, to the high-beam headlights of 87,000 passenger cars. Tonight's race will be the first Winston Cup event ever televised in prime time by a major network.

It used to be that the Firecracker 400 was run on the Fourth of July, but now a soft drink company has bought the name and it has been moved to July 3 or 2 or 5 or 6 or whatever weekend day best accommodates TV.

But all that's OK. That's progress. That's just the way big-time sports are as we enter the 21st century.

You can change the name and date of the race and you can add as many lights and logos as you want, and it's still Daytona.

But it's not Daytona if the King's not here.

Daytona without Richard Petty is like Augusta without Jack Nicklaus, Vegas without Wayne Newton or Mayberry without Andy Taylor.

Daytona USA?

Without Petty, it's Daytona RFD.

"Any other race or any other place, you wouldn't think too much about it," said Richard's son Kyle, a third-generation driver. "But it just doesn't seem the same at Daytona without him here, does it?"

Not hardly.

There's still a chance King Richard, 62, could show up for tonight's Firecracker, er, Pepsi 400, but nobody's really counting on it. Last week he was at home in North Carolina when a bleeding ulcer ruptured and he lost nearly 40 percent of his blood. Luckily, a family friend was at his house when Petty fainted after the ulcer burst. Although he suffered a lacerated head and a black eye during the fall, the King is said to be recuperating nicely after a three-day stay in the hospital.

Petty's birthday was yesterday, and traditionally he celebrates it in the garage area at Daytona. According to Kyle, his dad hasn't missed a race at Daytona since his former car company -- Chrysler -- boycotted NASCAR in 1965.

"He says he's coming for the race and my mother says he's not," Kyle says. "So we'll see who wins that battle."

Although he hasn't raced at Daytona since 1992, just seeing him strolling through the garage area is still one of the highlights for any Daytona event but especially the Fourth of July race. …

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