Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Adam's car

It has been eight years since Adam Petty died while practicing for a Busch Series race at Loudon, N.H. His death on May 12, 2000, still reverberates through NASCAR because of his bloodline. It also signaled the waning days NASCAR could claim ignorance to woefully inadequate safety standards. In less than a year, Kenny Irwin, Tony Roper and Dale Earnhardt also would be killed while driving stock cars.

I witnessed Adam’s first and only Winston Cup start at Texas Motor Speedway on April 2, 2000. It was a joyful, albeit bittersweet, day because his father, Kyle, did not qualify for the race, although he later replaced an ailing Elliot Sadler in the No. 21. But not even a DNF could wipe the wide smile off Adam’s face after he climbed from his No. 45 Chevy. It was supposed to be the beginning of a long and historic career for the fourth generation driver.

But he tragically died a month later at age 19. As the Petty family grieved, Kyle decided to drive the No. 45 for the remainder of his career. He consistently says he is merely a substitute driver for Adam and treats the car with honor and respect. So It seems somewhat ironic that Kyle Petty would announce this week that he will step away from Adam’s No. 45 for seven races in June and July.

Chad McCumbee and two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte will split the driving duties as Petty attends his daughter’s wedding and announces several races for TNT. A driver taking seven races off during the summer is usually an indication his career is over.

Now it’s time for Kyle Petty to make another decision: Either drive Adam’s car full-time or park it and give McCumbee a new number. That is the best option to salvage Petty Enterprises and preserve Adam’s memory.

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