1961 Daytona 500: “We don’t think your Daddys gonna live”
50 years ago, the Petty family had a weekend at the Daytona 500 they are unlikely to forget.
During the first qualifying race, 21 year old Richard Petty flew over the first turn wall. It was a savage crash that sent Richard to the infield hospital to have his hand stitched up and glass fragments removed from his eyes.
Once out of the hospital he heard fans in the infield screaming in horror. “I looked up at some people who were on scaffolds and the tops of trucks. They seemed to be in shock.” recounted the King.
“I yelled to them and asked what had happened. They said, ‘Lee Petty and Johnny Beauchamp just went out of the race track wall in the fourth turn!”
“I couldn’t believe it. Two Petty cars over the rail and out at Daytona on the same day! It seemed unreal. Then it hit me that daddy might be hurt real bad, way worse than I was.”
Indeed, driver and team owner Lee Petty, winner of the first Daytona 500 in 1959, was critically injured.
Lee was in a coma, with severe internal injuries, broken bones, and doctors were unsure if he would pull through. He spent four months in the hospital and thankfully survived, but his racing career was over.