There are times in the sport of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, when looking at things on the surface, they seem simple. An example is a car number. A car number, in its simplest definition, allows race fans to connect a car with a team and a driver. But, as in many cases, when digging under the surface, you can find layers of history. And, for Richard Petty, and the Petty family, these layers of car numbers are built on wins and championships that have transcended through time to build a stock car dynasty across the world.
Beginning in 2016, this tradition is returning to the Petty family and Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM). RPM will once again field the number "44", replacing the number "9" used since RPM was created after a merge in 2009.
Richard Petty speaks about the family history and its racing car numbers:
"To speak about us changing our car number, you first have to go back to the beginning with my Dad (Lee). He started Petty Engineering and later Petty Enterprises, and he was there right when NASCAR all started. He put together a car, and the first race he entered he actually raced a car numbered 38. But, that was it. He then went and got his own car. He had to put a number on it and saw the number 42 on a license plate, and that’s how it all started. It just went forward from there.
Lee Petty raced the number 42 from 1949-1961 before using the number 41 in select races through 1964 before retiring. He retired with three championships and 54 wins with the number 42.
"Daddy won three championships and had a bunch of wins with that number- it was the most of anyone at that time. He built Petty Enterprises off that number. At that time, maybe it didn’t mean too much, but that’s what got everything started. After my brother (Maurice) and I got older, we wanted to race too. We put a car together with Dale (Inman), and when it was time to go to the track, we needed a number. The car we had was one of Daddy’s old cars, so it was easy to just take the 4 off, and we raced under the number 2 for a few races. I think one race we just switched the numbers and raced with the number 24. When we got going into the 1959 season, it just made sense for me to go to the track with the 43 number with Daddy still racing the 42. That allowed me to have my own identity, and fate took it from there.
Richard Petty raced the number 43 from 1959-1992 winning a record 200 races and seven championships. He was crowned "The King" and cemented himself as the most successful NASCAR driver of all time
"Back then, it wasn’t just Daddy and I racing. Maurice was building the engines, but he did some racing too. When it was time, we were using the 42 and 43, so he was one of the first to use the number 44 in the family. Later, he started using the 41, and then, that really became his family number that he used. We raced the number 41 again at Martinsville the year he was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and that was pretty special.
Maurice "Chief" Petty raced the No. 41, 42, 43 and 44 in select races from 1960-1964. He is most remembered racing the No. 41.
"We’ve had a lot of other drivers race for Petty Enterprises and Richard Petty Motorsports, but when Maurice wanted to be the Crew Chief for the Superbird in 1970, we hired Pete Hamilton who was a big star racing up in New England. We really felt that car was a big part of the Petty stable, so we used the number 40. Pete and Chief won the 500 and swept the races at Talladega that year. That built the legacy of the number 40 with the family.
Pete Hamilton raced the No. 40 for Petty Enterprises during the 1970 season. He won three races, including the 1970 Daytona 500. He finished in the Top-10 11 times in the No. 40 for the Petty family.
"Kyle had his first ever stock car start (ARCA) in a number 44 at Daytona. He won that one. He started with the number 42 in Cup racing because that’s what his Grandfather raced. He did that for a few years before getting the 7-Eleven sponsorship, and that changed the number. He then raced for Felix (Sabates), but when he came back and formed pe2, he started using the 44 number, and that’s really where it became his number. He had the Hot Wheels car and was racing for the family. People know Kyle for different numbers, but for the Petty family, we consider his number to be the 44.
Kyle Petty raced the No. 42 for Petty Enterprises from 1979-1982. He raced the No. 44 for pe2/Petty Enterprises from 1997-2000. He won his first ARCA race in 1979 at Daytona in the No. 44 for Petty Enterprises.
"When Adam came along, he saw that his great grandfather raced the 42, I raced the 43 and so on. He saw the order, and he just started right out with the 45. That worked for him and Petty Enterprises too. He won in the No. 45 at Charlotte in his first ARCA start. He then carried that number with him. That’s the number that everyone thinks of when they think of Adam.
Adam Petty raced the No. 45 from 1998 to 2000 and made his Sprint Cup debut in the No. 45. He won the ARCA race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1998 racing a number 45.
"The No. 43 and other ‘Petty numbers’ have kept winning too. Guys like Jim Paschal, Bobby Hamilton, John Andretti and now Aric (Almirola) have kept the 41, 42 and 43 numbers in Victory Lane for Petty, and that makes you feel good. They are keeping the tradition alive and winning with these numbers.
Jim Paschal (9 wins in the 41, 42 and 43), Bobby Hamilton (2 wins in the 43), John Andretti and Aric Almirola (one win each in the 43) have all carried on the winning tradition.
"After the 2015 season, we had an opportunity to make some changes and get the No. 44 back. We felt that it was good timing. We really wanted to get that number back in the Petty family where it really belongs. Brian (Scott) is coming on board, and he really hasn’t had a number in the Sprint Cup Series. Everything has just come together to really bring back a Petty tradition.
"For us, the numbers are more than just a number you could say. They really represent our family history, our legacy and everyone who has worked for us or raced for us. We take a lot of pride in that and are glad to have the 44 back home."
Kyle Petty comments on the return of the number 44.
"It's good to see the 44 number back where it belongs. I grew up knowing that my uncle Maurice raced the 41, my grandfather raced the 42 and my father raced the 43. I would go on to race the 44, and Adam eventually drove the 45. With Pete Hamilton driving the 40 at one time for PE, to me, those numbers were always ‘Petty’ numbers. I’m looking forward to seeing Brian Scott carrying on our tradition."
Brian Scott comments on racing the Petty Family number 44.
"I think it’s special to be with an organization with such history and then to be able to put your name in their history. Richard Petty’s history and recognition around NASCAR is his number. To go back to what everyone considers to be Petty history with the 44, I think it’s really special to be the driver that gets to do that."