Petty surprised with piece of grandfather's past
May 10, 2014, Mike Hembree. Special for, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Play NASCAR Fantasy Live | Sign up for RaceView today
STARKE, Fla. -- As a long-time NASCAR driver and a follower of NASCAR trails virtually since he was a baby, Kyle Petty has been there, done that and gotten the t-shirt.
It takes a lot to surprise him. On Saturday, the final day of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, someone did.
At a ride fuel stop in Starke in central Florida, Jerry Smith, a local resident, walked up to Petty and showed him a dramatic link to his family’s racing past.
In a qualifying race for the 1961 Daytona 500, Lee Petty, Kyle’s grandfather and a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was involved in one of the most spectacular crashes in NASCAR history. He and Johnny Beauchamp tangled, and both cars flew over the track guard rail and rolled down the banking on the outside of the track.
Petty suffered serious injuries, including a collapsed lung and several fractures. He would be hospitalized for four months.
After the crash, the track’s public address announcer made an appeal for fans with Petty’s blood type to go to the hospital to donate blood.
Smith had copies of hospital receipts that showed that his father, Harold Smith, had donated blood for Petty that day.
Harold Smith had driven to Daytona Beach from Orion, Illinois to attend Daytona 500 week activities.
“He carried those receipts in his wallet until the day (in 2010) he died,” Jerry Smith said. “He had the right blood type, and he responded. I guess everybody in the family became Petty fans after that.”
The Smith family later moved to Starke.
“Amazing,” Kyle Petty said. “You never know who you’ll run into on these trips. That wreck really knocked the family for a loop. It was a hard time.”
Photo notes: Lee Petty (No. 42) and Johnny Beauchamp (No. 73) fly out of Daytona International Speedway during the 37th lap of the second qualifying race. Petty's Plymouth rests against a chain-link fence near the Turn 4 tunnel entrance.