Image Gallery: NASCAR
Image Gallery: NASCAR

Richard Petty's unparalleled success and winning personality thrust NASCAR into the national spotlight. See more pictures of NASCAR.

Through the second week of June 1967, Richard Petty had won 10 of the 24 NASCAR Grand National races. The season was half over and Petty was on a rampage, yet he was trailing winless sophomore driver James Hylton in the points standings. Such is the procedure to determine a NASCAR champion -- excellence is not always properly rewarded.

With a victory in the June 18 race at Rockingham, Petty logged his 11th win of the season, but more importantly, he had finally grabbed the NASCAR Grand National points lead. The "Prince of Randleman" (N.C.) wouldn't be threatened in the title chase again, easily recording an overwhelming triumph and racking up his second of seven NASCAR championships.

Petty turned up the heat even higher in the second half of the 1967 season. In the final 24 races, the Plymouth-driving Petty won 17 times, giving him 27 victories in 48 starts -- a .563 batting average. He won the championship by 6028 points over Hylton, who parlayed consistency to finish second.

In the unprecedented run of success, Petty won 10 consecutive races, a mind-boggling achievement that will likely remain in NASCAR's record books forever. The undefeated string lasted from August into October.

Petty brought himself and NASCAR stock car racing from the small two-paragraph stories at the back of the sports section to front-page headlines. His name, his smile, his mannerisms, and his driving record made every sports page reader below the Mason-Dixon line take notice of the Southern brand of motorsports. Everybody was talking and writing about Richard Petty. In fact, one Carolina daily newspaper reported that Petty had finished second in a 100-mile NASCAR Grand National race at Maryville, Tenn., without noting that Dick Hutcherson had won the event

Petty's achievements earned a write-up in Newsweek magazine, the first time the national weekly devoted an article to a stock car driver. He was also featured in Sports Illustrated, Life magazine, and True Magazine for Men. "Richard Petty For President" bumper stickers and lapel buttons began to appear during the 1967 season.

As Petty's star shined brighter, some members of the media started taking potshots at the new "king" of stock car racing. They said he wasn't deserving of the media attention. One reporter went so far as to say Petty was a snob who didn't care about his fans and supporters. Cheap shots to be sure.

The outrageous remarks didn't sit well with Bill France. The NASCAR president delivered a public plea to end that sort of nonsense.

"I know of no other driver in NASCAR history who has brought more recognition to the sport", said France in October 1967. "I can't agree with those who think Richard has gained more than his share. In bringing the spotlight into focus on the Petty team, he is also bringing added recognition to NASCAR. They have worked many years to achieve success. I'm proud he has set his records as a member of NASCAR."

It took King Richard just 10 years to become the number-one driver in NASCAR history. His career began on July 12, 1958, 10 days after his 21st birthday. It was a NASCAR Convertible race at Columbia, S.C., and he finished sixth in an Oldsmobile. "I felt I was ready to race before that", remarked Petty. "But Daddy [Lee Petty] told me that I would have to wait until I was 21." Petty made only nine NASCAR Grand National starts in '58, then became Rookie of the Year in '59.

Petty's first NASCAR Grand National race, oddly, was outside the continental United States. Six days after his baptism in Columbia, "Dick" Petty, as he was called back then, drove the #142 Oldsmobile at the Canadian National Expo­sition track in Toronto. The fuzzy-cheeked youngster managed to go 55 laps before he "hit the fence." He won a total of $115 for his efforts.

"It wasn't much of a race," Petty recalled. "I got in Daddy's way when he was lapping me, so he punted me into the fence. He went on to win, so I reckon it was a good day for the Pettys."

From that inauspicious beginning, Petty became the King of NASCAR racing, winning the championship in 1964, '67, '71, '72, '74, '75, and '79. During his illustrious career, Petty won 200 of his 1184 career starts, scored 712 top-10 finishes, led in 599 events, and traveled 303,662 miles in ­competition.

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