On this day in 1986, driving legend Richard Petty makes the 1,000th start of his National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) career, in the Miller American 400 in Brooklyn, Michigan. He became the first driver in NASCAR history to log 1,000 career starts.
Petty grew up on the NASCAR circuit: His father was Hall of Fame driver Lee Petty, one of stock car racing’s pioneers and a three-time winner of the Grand National championship in the 1950s. At the age of 12, young Richard became his father’s crew chief, but he was not allowed to drive until 1958, when he turned 21. Richard and Lee Petty both raced in the inaugural Daytona 500 the following year; Lee won the event, while Richard’s engine blew after only eight laps. By the late 1960s, however, Richard Petty had become the dominant figure in stock car racing. He won his first Daytona 500 in 1964, two years after his father was knocked out of racing after a near-fatal crash. In 1967, Petty won 27 of the 48 races he started–including a record 10 straight victories–and finished in the top five of 11 others to capture the Grand National title for a second time.
During the 1970s, Petty won five Winston Cups and four Daytona 500s, and was known for his fierce rivalry with the driver David Pearson, who edged Petty out after a collision in the last lap at Daytona in 1976. Ulcers caused Petty to have 40 percent of his stomach removed in late 1978; he came back to win another Daytona 500 two months later. He scored his last career victory–his 200th–at the Firecracker 400 in 1984, two days after his 47th birthday.
On June 15, 1986, at the Michigan International Speedway, Bill Elliott beat Harry Gant (who had come back from serious injuries after a crash a week earlier) to win the Miller American 400. The race will go down in history, however, as Richard Petty’s 1000th career start. (Some controversy exists as to whether the race was his 1,000th or 999th career start, due to varied record keeping and statistics procedures over the years.)
Dubbed “The King,” the enormously popular Petty retired in 1992, having racked up a dominant list of records including first all-time in wins (200), races started (1,184), top-five finishes (555), top-10 finishes (712), pole positions (126), laps completed (307,836), laps led (52,194), races led (599), and consecutive races won (10).