Speed meant everything to Maurice Petty
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – During his career as the engine builder for Petty Enterprises, speed meant everything to Maurice Petty.
Speed was crucial under the hood of his family’s famous race cars and speed in the engine room, where refurbishing and turning around the pieces to be used again the following week wasn’t an option, it often was the rule.
So it should come as no surprise that Petty, the son of three-time NASCAR champion Lee Petty and brother of seven-time champ Richard Petty, doesn’t plan to waste time Wednesday evening when he joins four other inductees going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
"They give you eight minutes, right?" Maurice Petty said in a recent telephone interview with NASCAR.com. "I told them they’d be lucky to get a minute out of me. I’ve never been one for making speeches."
Petty is the fourth member of the Petty Enterprises dynasty to be welcomed into the Hall. Richard was in the inaugural 2010 class while Lee followed in '11. Crew chief Dale Inman joined the following year.
Going in along with Maurice tonight will be two-time champion Tim Flock and Dale Jarrett, the 1999 Cup champion, Jack Ingram, twice a champion in what’s now the Nationwide Series, as well as Glenn "Fireball" Roberts, a winner of 33 races and one of the sport’s early stars.
Maurice Petty’s engine-building expertise didn’t come from books or the classroom. He learned by trial and error, and judging by the results (more than 200 wins), the errors were few.
Race engines weren’t race engines when the Pettys got started, which was about the same time something called NASCAR was started as well.
"They were built for the road, not the racetrack," he said. And unlike today’s programs that churn out engines in assembly-line fashion by dozens of personnel, Petty made do with a handful of employees ("Probably four at most, counting myself," he said) while traveling to the track and working with the team.
"You didn’t have enough parts to build too many during a week," he said. "Today, they just build one on top of each other. We didn’t have enough engines to hardly go around … you might run one, two or three races, then when something happened to it, you’d have to get back in there and turn that sucker around to go race the next Saturday or Sunday. Because when they threw that green flag, that race was going to start."
Although his father and brother earned accolades for their driving accomplishments, Maurice also had a career behind the wheel. Between 1960 and 1964, he made 26 starts and posted 16 top-10s. But when Lee Petty was injured at Daytona in 1964, Maurice turned his attention to building engines and helping keep the family-owned organization moving forward.
After years out of the spotlight, Maurice said he has enjoyed the fanfare and attention that has come with his induction into the Hall. It just isn’t something he would seek on his own.
"I’m not one that’s really had to have that attention," he said. "… My brother Richard, he just loves to get out and be among people.
"I wasn’t backwards or anything; if I’ve got something to tell you, I’ll tell you and I’m going to get the hell on out of there."
But a one-minute speech? Surely he’ll need more time than that once he finally arrives on stage.
"You wanna bet?" he asks with a laugh.