Return of a champion

Sunday, April 22, 1962 – Lee Petty returns to NASCAR competition more than a year after he was seriously injured in a crash at Daytona International Speedway. Petty, founder of the legendary Petty Enterprises racing operation, resumed his racing career with a fifth-place finish in the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Petty suffered injuries to his right leg, a punctured lung and broken ribs in an accident during his qualifying race at DIS the previous year. He was hospitalized for four months.

The three-time series champion made roughly a half-dozen starts after his crash but by ’64 his was through as a driver. After the Martinsville start, his only race in 1962, Petty made three starts in ’63 and two in ’64.

Richard Petty said talk of his father’s retirement “never came up,” when the two were competing. “I don’t think it came up in his mind because he was still winning races and winning championships (at that time. I don’t think he ever thought about not driving,”

The Daytona accident changed all that. “One of the last races he ran, I think it was Martinsville, he got out of the car and he said, “I’m through,” Richard Petty said. “I said ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t enjoy it anymore; it’s not fun.’ He had lost his enthusiasm. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, he wouldn’t have lost it. Who knows how much longer he might have raced?”

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