Winston Cup Scene
By Rick Houston
The memory will be with me for as long as I cover this sport.
Adam Petty sat in the infield media center on Friday morning, May 12, at New Hampshire, talking with reporters and wearing his super-cool shades. He had not a care in the world.
“You’re indoors. You don’t need sunglasses,” I chided him, laughing as I entered the room. “You’ve got too much Winston Cup in you already.”
The kid grinned that mile-wide grin of his, and removed the sunglasses. As I started to sit down at my work space, Adam said something to somebody else about how he’d been trying to lose some weight. The lanky, thin-as-a-rail youngster patted his belly and grinned again.
“Man, I hate skinny people,” I said with another laugh, and then turned to my computer screen.
I don’t remember him leaving. Two hours later, Adam Petty was dead.
So this is the column I hoped I’d never have to write, the one in memory of a fallen friend. It took an assist, though, to get the job done, to collect my thoughts after the worst weekend of my professional life.
Steven Curtis Chapman is one of contemporary Christian music’s most successful artists, and rarely does a day go by when one of his CDs doesn’t find its way into my player. This time, it was a song from his latest project, Speechless, that brought comfort and peace in the midst of a terribly dark time.
On the way to the airport for the flight home from New Hampshire, the song “With Hope” opened the floodgates.
This is not at all/How we thought it was supposed to be/We had so many plans for you/We had so many dreams/And now you’ve gone away/And left us with the memories of your smile/And nothing we can say/And nothing we can do/Can take away the pain/The pain of losing you, but ...
Man, I hate skinny people,” I said with another laugh, and then turned to my computer screen. I don’t remember him leaving. Two hours later, Adam Petty was dead.
I covered all but one of Adam’s 42 starts in the Busch Series. After his first, at Gateway in October 1998, he told a colleague that his debut had been great except for the fact he’d burned his ... uh ... backside.
Four months later, Adam was running third with less than four laps to go at Daytona when he brushed the wall in turn two. He dropped to sixth, which in retrospect might have been a good thing. Had a Petty won again at Daytona, folks might’ve torn the place apart in celebration.
We can cry with hope/We can say goodbye with hope/Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no/And we can grieve with hope/Cause we believe with hope/There’s a place by God’s grace/There’s a place where we’ll see your face again ...
The look on Adam’s face last summer was priceless when I asked him about rumors that he would be moving to Winston Cup in a family owned Dodge. Kicked back in the lounge of his trans porter, Adam’s face registered at first shock, then panic and finally that Petty smile.
Adam wasn’t going to let the cat out of the bag. No way, no how. He’d learned from the best – granddaddy Richard and father Kyle – about how to deal with the media.
After meeting Adam last fall, my wife decided she’d set him up on a date with her cousin. The meeting never occurred, but instead became a running joke between the two of us. I don’t think he ever believed me when I described her as gorgeous. And for some reason, Adam didn’t take it as a bonus that we could be cousins-in-law if they hit it off.
And never have I known/Anything so hard to understand/And never have I questioned more/The wisdom of God’s plan/But through the cloud of tears/I see the Father’s smile and say well done/And I imagine you/Where you wanted -most to be/Seeing all your dreams come true/Cause now you’re home/And now you’re free ...
After his part-time Winston Cup deal was announced last November, Adam asked me in the garage area at Homestead why I hadn’t been at the press conference. As Tim Fedewa said the day after that terrible crash, Adam and I weren’t the best of friends, but he had a way of making it seem like we were.
Rest well, buddy. Save a place for the rest of us.
We have this hope as an anchor/Cause we believe that everything/God promised us is true, so/We wait with hope/And we ache with hope/We hold on with hope/We let go with hope ...
Lyrics copyright 1999 Sparrow Song/Peach Hill Songs (BMI). All rights administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing.
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