Lynda Petty, the wife of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. She was 72.
She was diagnosed with central nervous system lymphoma four years ago.
Richard and Lynda Petty were married in 1959, and she played an instrumental role in her husband’s early racing career. Richard Petty, who holds the Sprint Cup record with 200 victories, told USA TODAY Sports in 2008 that Lynda would feed their four children and the pit crew from the back of a 1960 Chrysler sedan parked in the infield.
“We finally got a station wagon in 1969,” Richard Petty said. “She said she thought she’d died and gone to heaven because it had all that room for the kids and the food.”
NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement: “On behalf of the France family and everyone at NASCAR, I want to offer sincere condolences to the Petty family regarding the loss of their beloved matriarch, Lynda Petty. Through the years, Lynda became an integral part of the NASCAR landscape. We have lost a true friend, who will be missed each and every day. Our thoughts and prayers will be with the Pettys throughout this difficult time.”
Lynda Petty gave the command to start engines in May 2005 at Darlington Raceway for the first Southern 500 held on Mother’s Day.
“I’m honored they asked me,” she told USA TODAY in 2005. “But I’m not really excited. I don’t know if you get excited about being the grand marshal. I guess some people might. I’ve been coming (to races) for so long, I never thought about it.”
Though her family made its fame and fortune in racing, Lynda Petty admitted to growing disenchanted with NASCAR in later years, saying, “People are not as friendly today. They don’t come by and speak to you as much because everything is very competitive. It’s such a stab-you-in-the-back, dog-eat-dog world in the sport now. I can’t tell you how it breaks my heart.
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SOURCE: USA Today