On this day in 2000, 19-year-old Adam Petty, son of Winston Cup driver Kyle Petty and grandson of National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) icon Richard Petty, is killed after crashing into a wall during practice for a Grand National race at Loudon, New Hampshire.
The young Petty was the first fourth-generation driver in NASCAR history. His great-grandfather, Lee Petty, a pioneer of NASCAR racing, died in April 2000; Adam Petty competed in his first Winston Cup three days before his great-grandfather’s death, finishing 40th. The young Petty was in his second season in the Busch Series and was planning to move to the Winston Cup circuit full time the following year. In his 29 starts during 1999, he posted three top-five and four top-10 finishes; his best was fourth place in the AutoClub 300 at California Speedway (which in 2008 was renamed the Auto Club Speedway of Southern California). In 2000, Petty’s best finish was on April 15, when he came in 12th place in the Touchstone Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.
Petty’s death occurred around noon on May 12, 2000, at the New Hampshire International Speedway, during a practice session to qualify for the following day’s Busch 200. According to an NBC News report, his car crashed head-on into a wall while traveling at 130 miles per hour. Petty was airlifted to Concord Hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head trauma.
Just eight weeks later, driver Kenny Irwin died at Loudon after crashing into a wall at 150 mph, almost in the same spot as Petty. As reported by The Chicago Tribune, speculation about the reason for the crash focused on a stuck accelerator, which would have kept Irwin from slowing enough to make the turn. A stuck accelerator was also believed to be the reason for Petty’s crash, though NASCAR was unable to verify that information. Though some drivers criticized the track, the Tribune quoted Richard Petty, who said it was just coincidence that his grandson and Irwin were killed at almost exactly the same spot. “Those things are circumstances beyond human control,” Petty said. “There’s nothing the matter with the racetrack. It’s circumstances with the way you stop that thing so quick. Your body just can’t stand it.”