Speed Zone Blog: Long Live the Queen

Jacob Seelman Featured, Jacob Seelman Blog, NASCAR, Southeast, Staff Columns 0 Comments

March 25, 2014 — Blog by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Race Chaser Online — NASCAR photo — I knew I would live to see this day come, I just never expected it to be this sudden.

My heart sank when I heard this afternoon that Lynda Petty, wife of King Richard, died earlier today at the Petty family home in Level Cross after a long fight with cancer and mini strokes that plagued her following her cancer treatments. While she wasn’t at the racetrack or at NASCAR functions very often in recent years, when she was there, everyone knew it. Those around her would never have known that she had been through as much as she had.

I’ve heard it often said that she was the definition of strength and endurance; those who were closest to her never heard a cross word uttered from her while she was undergoing treatments for combination brain tumor and lymphoma. And not only did she undergo the treatments, she beat the cancer. It may have taken a lot out of her, but Lynda Petty was not going to go out on anyone else’s terms but her own and God’s. She was determined that she was going to tackle the dark times head on, and that she did. No one ever saw her bat an eye, and she continued making time for the communities she loved so much, both NASCAR and Level Cross. She served on the board of the Hospice of Randolph County because it was her gift to Level Cross, as Richard’s was racing.

Lynda was one of the most respected figures ever to grace the NASCAR garage area. When she had something to say, people took notice. They listened to Lynda Petty because they knew what Lynda Petty meant to NASCAR, and how much she gave in later years to the sport her husband loved so much.

From my perspective, she was a brave woman to have married Richard while she was still in high school, knowing full well his NASCAR career was just taking off and that at that time, women weren’t even allowed in the garage area at NASCAR-sanctioned events. Yet she did it anyways. Everyone in Level Cross always says the two were sweethearts from the start, that it wasn’t if they were going to get together, but when. Lynda Petty showed everyone even back then that love really does conquer all.

At the race track and away from it, she showed every facet of good character imaginable, always being “too good” as some used to describe it, to Richard. She remained home to run the Petty household and take care of the family — Kyle, Sharon, Lisa and Rebecca — while Richard chased racing. For years her duties were set, as Richard described in detail a couple of years ago on the SPEED Channel special “A Racer’s Life”.

“We sort of sat down and said, ‘This is how it’s going to be,’ ” the King said on the program. ” ‘I’m going to go out and I’m going to be gone but I’m going to make the living. You bring the kid. Make sure he’s fed. You do your part and you pay the bills. I’ll bring the money in and throw it on the table. You take care of everything.’ That’s the way it worked. She had her responsibilities and I had mine.”

Often called the “First Lady of NASCAR”, that’s exactly who she was. For years after women were allowed in the garage area, unless he was behind the wheel, you knew where to find Lynda Petty. Even if she wasn’t in the thick of things, she was nearby Richard, just keeping an eye on things.

Where Richard was the unquestioned King, Lynda was his bride, the Queen. She did not wear the crown boastfully, but elegantly, supporting the racing community before herself and making sure her family was taken care of. Everyone knew she would get to herself eventually. But they also knew she was happiest doing good for everyone around her, helping prepare the way, so to speak. I suppose now she’ll take that tradition with her from this earth and just be upstairs helping to prepare the way for others as she always did, fussing over Richard’s place most of all.

I never got the chance to have a personal conversation with Lynda. I only remember seeing her at the track one time when I was still young, just before my folks got out of NASCAR in the late 90s. I don’t remember if I said anything that day, but I do remember that all the times I saw her on TV afterwards before she took ill. During one of those times, I thought to myself:

“To do what she does (and has done) for her entire life, and still to carry the grace and contentment that she did all those years, it takes a truly special kind of person to do that.”

Lynda Petty was that kind of person.

I know there are no words for the emptiness all of us in the NASCAR community feel tonight. We feel as though we have lost one of our leaders and one of our most dear friends. In a way we have lost the matriarch of the garage area. For that, we will all ache a little bit tonight.

But as hard as it is for all of us, perhaps we could find some comfort in the thought that she is free from her struggles now and that she will be watching this sport that we all love from a better place.

Godspeed, Mrs. Lynda.

And long live the Queen.

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