Petty was born in High Point, North Carolina into stock car racing "royalty." The son of Kyle Petty, he was widely expected to become the next great Petty, following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather Richard, and great-grandfather Lee.
Petty began his career in 1998, shortly after he turned 18. Like his father Kyle, he won his first Auto Racing Club of America Re/Max Series start, in the #45 Sprint Spree Pontiac at Lowe's Motor Speedway in that same year.
Petty drove a #45 Sprint Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series full-time in 1999 after a successful season in the Midwestern short track American Speed Association season in the #45 Sprint Spree Pontiac. He also finished sixth in his first Nationwide Series race at Daytona and had a best finish of fourth place that year. However, he failed to qualify for three races, and finished 20th overall in points.
Petty Enterprises planned on giving Adam a Winston Cup ride in 2001 and planned to give him seven starts in Cup in 2000, along with a full Busch campaign in a car sponsored by Sprint. He struggled early in the Nationwide season, but managed to qualify in his first attempt at Winston Cup during the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. He was disappointed, however, when his father failed to do the same. Further disappointments came when his engine failed during the race, giving Adam a 40th overall finish. During the race, however, Kyle was able to drive in the event, as a relief driver for Elliott Sadler, after Sadler felt ill and had to exit his car during the race. Lee Petty, Adam's great-grandfather, and 3-time NASCAR Champion, lived to see his debut, but died just three days afterwards.
Tragically, on May 12, Petty was practicing his Nationwide car at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire for the next day's 200-lap event when the throttle of his car stuck and sent him head-on into a wall. The impact killed Petty immediately. He was only 19 at the time.
Adam's death, along with 1998 Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year Kenny Irwin's at the same track, led NASCAR to mandate the use of a kill switch on the steering wheel and the adoption of the Whelen Modified Tour restrictor plate for the September Cup race; the plate was abandoned after a year. However, it was not until the death of Dale Earnhardt (who died under similar circumstances) that NASCAR mandated head-and-neck restraints in October 2001.
Kyle Petty, who drove the #44 car at the time of the crash, drove Adam's #45 car in the Nationwide Series for the remainder of 2000. He has used that number since in Sprint Cup races in tribute and had Sprint sponsor the #45 for two seasons. To this day, Kyle drives an all-black car in memoriam whenever he races in New Hampshire.
In October 2000, five months after Adam's death, his family partnered with Paul Newman and the Hole in the Wall Gang camp to begin the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, NC, as a memorial to Adam. The camp has received support from many NASCAR drivers, teams, and sponsors, including Cup Series sponsor Sprint Nextel, which has placed a replica of Adam's 1998 car in the camp. The Victory Junction Gang camp opened its doors in 2004.
|Adam Petty | Kyle Petty | Lee Petty|