Adam 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, his grandfather Richard, and his great-grandfather Lee. He was the first known fourth-generation athlete in all of modern American motor sports to participate in the chosen profession of his generations.
Adam raced go-karts from the age of six until twelve, when he moved up to compete in select Mini-Sprints races. When he turned thirteen, Adam decided to take some time off from racing. He reasoned that the travel was tough for an adult, much less a thirteen year-old. Petty tried his hand at several sports including football, basketball and baseball, but after just a year he was ready to climb back behind the wheel of a race car for good.
In 1995, Adam participated in the Legends Car Competition, but his main goal was to get into a stock car. For his fourteenth birthday, his father, Kyle, bought him a Winston Racing Series Late Model Stock chassis and told Adam that it was now his job to get the parts to put the car together. "It was just the chassis," Adam recalls. "He told me to put together the sponsorship, get the parts and build the thing myself. It took me two years to do it."
In 1997, Adam competed in 25 NASCAR Winston Racing Series Late Model Stock Car races. The first part of the season proved to be rough for the youngest Petty driver. In nine races at Caraway Speedway near his hometown, Adam recalled wrecking between four and five times. "Some of them were my fault - rookie mistakes," says Adam. "But then again some of them were definitely not my fault."
On April 11, 1998, Adam made his professional racing debut at Peach State Speedway in Jefferson, GA. With this debut, he became the first fourth generation professional athlete in the United States. While he didn't win that night, getting caught in an accident that was not his fault, he would not have to wait long before finding Victory Lane. Just a little over two months later in his tenth ASA start, Petty came from two laps down to win the race at I-70 Speedway, a half-mile track in Odessa, MO. With this win he became the youngest driver to win an ASA race, stripping NASCAR Winston Cup veteran Mark Martin of that title.
In October, Adam made his Superspeedway debut in Charlotte at Lowe's Motor Speedway in his first Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event. After convincing his parents to let him run the race, he did not disappoint them. After running through oil and backing the car into the wall during an early practice session, Adam came back to hold off Mike Wallace and win the race by .100 of a second. Adam surpassed his father as the youngest ARCA Superspeedway winner at the age of 18 years and 3 months. (Kyle also won in his first ARCA start in 1979 at the age of 18 years and 8 months.)
Only three weeks later, Adam made his NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series debut in St. Louis at Gateway International Raceway. He finished in 27th spot, two laps down but he knew the Busch (Nationwide) Series is where he would run in the 1999 season.
With the start of the 1999 season in Daytona, Adam was thrust into the middle of a flurry of media and fan attention, as everyone wished to speak with the fourth generation Petty during his first speedweeks as a driver. Even at the age of 18, Adam did not let the excitement of Daytona take his focus off of racing. This helped him and his team, accomplish a sixth place finish at the historic motorsports facility.
Petty Enterprises planned to give Adam a Winston (Sprint) Cup ride in 2001 and 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 Busch (Nationwide) season, but managed to qualify in his first attempt at Winston (Sprint) Cup series during the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 2. He ran in the middle of the pack most of the day before his engine expired, forcing him to finish 40th. Lee Petty, Adam's great-grandfather, and 3-time NASCAR Champion, lived to see his debut, but died just three days afterwards.
On May 12, 2000 Adam was practicing at the New Hampshire International Speedway when his car hit the turn three wall with a great impact. Adam was rushed to the local hospital but could not be revived ending a promising life at an early age. In the following days the outpouring of love and affection from the fans was astounding. Over 18,000 e-mails were received as well as numerous gifts, cards and letters showing just how much Adam affected the lives of racing fans worldwide. His smile and quick wit along with his love of God, family and racing are missed by family, friends and fans everywhere.
Kyle Petty, Adam's father, who drove the #44 car at the time of the crash, drove Adam's #45 car in the Busch (Nationwide) Series for the remainder of 2000. He has used that number since in every series to commemorate Adam’s life. To this day, Kyle drives an all-black car in memory of Adam whenever he races in New Hampshire. Also, Petty does not put his name over the top of his car in honor of Adam.
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, North Carolina, as a memorial to Adam, who always dreamed of helping children with needs. The Victory Junction Gang camp began operation in 2004, and is an official charity of NASCAR.