Legendary NASCAR engine builder Maurice Petty dies at 81

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Credit: Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

During NASCAR’s early decades, Maurice Petty helped build Petty Enterprises into one of the greatest teams in the sport. On Saturday, Richard Petty Motorsports announced the life of an accomplished engine builder has come to an end. Petty was 81.

The younger brother of Richard Petty, Maurice helped his family operation in the garage, building engines for the team and serving as crew chief. Nicknamed “The Chief”, his motors helped propel “The King” to seven Cup Series championships. Petty Enterprises won 212 races with Petty’s engine power, with father Lee, Buddy Baker, Pete Hamilton, and Jim Paschal also going to Victory Lane.

He also ran twenty-six premier series races from 1960 to 1964, recording sixteen top-ten finishes and a best run of third at the Piedmont Interstate Fairgrounds in 1961.

“The Chief was one of the most talented mechanics in NASCAR history,” said NASCAR chairman Jim France. “He provided the power that helped Petty Enterprises define dominance in sports. While he was known for his work under the hood, Maurice played multiple “behind-the-scenes” roles, doing whatever it took to help deliver his cars to Victory Lane. On behalf of the France family, I offer my condolences to the friends and family of Maurice Petty, a true NASCAR giant.”

In 2014, Petty was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, becoming the first engine builder to be enshrined and the third member of his family after Richard and Lee. To honour him, Richard Petty Motorsports – the successor to Petty Enterprises – replaced the traditional #43 with #41 for the 2013 fall race at Martinsville Speedway. Aric Almirola piloted the #41 to a twentieth-place finish.

“[O]n behalf of everyone at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, we offer our most sincere condolences to Timmy, Ritchie, Mark, Elizabeth and the entire Petty family,” read a statement from NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley. “Maurice Petty was one of the true pioneers in NASCAR who helped build one of NASCAR’s first dominant teams in Petty Enterprises. ‘Chief’ as Maurice was known to so many, was multi-talented and most known for his prowess in building powerful motors for his brother Richard and many others who drove for Petty Enterprises, including NASCAR Hall of Famer Buddy Baker and Pete Hamilton. One of his many crowning achievements was serving as crew chief and engine builder for Hamilton in 1970 when they won the Daytona 500 and both races at Talladega Superspeedway. Although the record shows 212 victories, Petty has well over 250 wins to his credit considering all the engines he built for his competitors. Chief will forever be remembered as one of the best to ever build power plants in NASCAR. He joined his Hall of Famer family members, father Lee (Class of 2011) and brother Richard (Class of 2010), as a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee in 2014.

“While we have lost one of NASCAR’s true, gritty pioneers and heroes, Maurice Petty’s legacy and memory will always be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Again, we offer our sincere condolences to the entire Petty family.”

Maurice Petty: March 27, 1939 — July 25, 2020

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