I finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch “Richard Petty: A Racer’s Life” with my husband the other evening. It was a great look at Petty’s life at home as his life at the track has been well-documented. The viewer got to see The King’s wife’s Lynda in a new perspective; life force of the family, matriarch, disciplinarian, accountant, and the ultimate partner and teammate to her popular husband.
Although it was always known the importance of Lynda in Petty’s life, this program documented far more of the deep emotion the two have shared in their over 50 years of marriage. While raising the couple’s four children, enduring heartache, accidents, the loss of a grandson, and all kinds of normal situations a marriage must endure, Lynda Petty was a rock and a confident woman that her husband would be there for her and the family. The King tops the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Time Wins list with 200 victories; nobody even comes close to that number. The program was a fitting tribute and telling tale of the Petty’s marriage.
As I’m wont to do, my mind started racing about the import of a strong union for a racecar driver at NASCAR’s top level. It seemed that nearly every successful driver I thought of in succession was linked to a long and happy marriage with a woman who complemented her spouse and supported him so he could do his job in the limelight.
After Petty my mind wandered to Cale Yarborough remembering that he and his Mrs. were married for over 50 years as well. With 83 wins on the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Time Wins list, Yarborough’s relationship with his wife Betty Jo seemed to give him a strong foundation to race hard, run well, and have a reason to come home. Like the Pettys, the Yarborough’s relationship has stood the test of time, poverty, the raising of three children, fame, and recognition in NASCAR.
Darrell Waltrip is another driver whose marriage is a strong model for others. Married for over 30 years the Waltrips, too, have had to scale enormous mountains, raise children, and fluctuate with the highs and lows the sport offers. The two are upfront about their faith in God, their marriage, working hard for the survival of their marriage, and having fun with their children. Waltrip’s strong marriage helped him earn fifth on the NASCAR Sprint Cup All-Time Wins list with 84 wins.
David Pearson, second on the All-Time Win list with 105 victories that he earned on a part-time schedule, was also involved in a good marriage. Although Helen Pearson was less than thrilled with the trophy girls that surrounded her husband and the fans who wanted to be near him, she stood by her husband until her death in 1991.
Bobby Allison, fourth on the All-Time Win list, tied with Waltrip, experienced the highest highs and lowest lows this sport has to offer. From winning the Daytona 500 three times, the last time beating his son Davey in 1988 for a one two father son finish, earning a NASCAR Cup championship, horrendous, career-ending wreck, and putting not one but two sons in early graves, Allison has endured more than any man should have to in one lifetime. Throughout it all Allison was married to wife Judy (1960-1996) and had four children. Their marriage was, like anyone’s, complicated at best. The strain of Allison losing his career and then his two boys within a year of each other put such a toll on the marriage that the two divorced. It was a hardship for the two Allisons to be separated. Once they sorted through their grief, frustrations, and pain, the two realized they were far better together than apart. The Allisons reconciled and remarried in 2000 after attending the funeral of Adam Petty.
Some drivers took a bit longer to find the right woman to bring them peace. For Dale Earnhardt, seventh on the All-Time Win list with 76 victories, the third time was the charm. Earnhardt chose a wife in Teresa in 1982. Earnhardt’s life continued on a forward, positive momentum from that day until his final day. Their marriage was solid, heralded as a true team, and seemed to hold much passion and respect.
Jeff Gordon also needed a “re-do” in the wife category. The driver, third on the All-Time Win list with 87 wins, married young to his first wife. His high-profile marriage to the former “Miss Winston” Brooke ended in a high-profile divorce that sent ripples through the world of NASCAR. Gordon stayed single for a long time before attempting love – and marriage. But he chose wisely in his wife Ingrid, a former model and mother of Gordon’s two children. The couple, married since 2006, seem rock solid in their marriage.
Jimmie Johnson, like Gordon still an active and winning driver in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, seems to be on the right track. He and wife Chandra have been married since 2004 and have a daughter. Johnson has five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup championships and falls eighth in the All-Time Wins list with 61 victories and still racking up wins!
Another driver who seems to have a solid marriage and a long career in NASCAR is Matt Kenseth. Although he currently has 25 All-Time Wins and sits 26th on the list, Kenseth is still a mighty force to be reckoned. Even after his move to Joe Gibbs Racing after a long and successful career with Roush-Fenway Racing, Kenseth is showing strength by winning in only his third start with the team. His marriage and family life give Kenseth a stability that creates a strong foundation for the driver. The Kenseths have been married since 2000 and have two children together; Kenseth has a son from a previous relationship.
Kyle Busch and his wife Samantha could be the next generation’s couple of longevity and success on the racetrack. Nobody argues Busch’s talent nor his love and devotion to his beautiful wife, but so far his immaturity has kept him from greatness. Or whatever the problem is…
Certainly not all drivers need to have a stable marriage in their life to excel in NASCAR. Tony Stewart is a confirmed bachelor with three NASCAR Sprint Cup titles to his name.
But maybe, just maybe, if Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. find the right women their careers would soar to the stars.
The evidence does show that NASCAR’s super couples do seem to create an atmosphere and a condition for winning.