BROOKLYN, Mich. – Racing on Father's Day is a NASCAR tradition. And for Kyle Petty, that tradition is both appropriate and somber.
Petty became a racer because he grew up as the son of The King.
Petty continues to race to honor the memory of a son who barely had a chance to scratch the NASCAR surface.
The Petty family name is among the most famous in American racing, rivaled only by Andretti, Earnhardt and Unser. Each of these families has enjoyed multiple generations succeeding on some of the highest levels in the sport.
Perhaps there is no better example of this than the Pettys.
Lee Petty was a NASCAR pioneer, winning the first Daytona 500 and capturing three championships during his career.
His son Richard, aka The King, rewrote the record book, winning 200 races – a mark that none have come remotely close to challenging – and seven championships. Only Dale Earnhardt has matched that number, and no other driver has won more than four titles.
Richard already was competing in NASCAR by the time Kyle was born in 1960. The younger Petty essentially lived at the track as Richard won race after race, championship after championship.
And his father's stature as NASCAR's greatest was not lost on Kyle.
"I think I'm probably the only guy in this garage that called their father 'King' growing up," Kyle said. "I was always hanging around the garage and in the shop. That's just what the guys called him. I did, too."
Not that having a famous father is a prerequisite for a competitive nature, but Kyle certainly found motivation in trying to best his dad.
"I know when I was growing up, I wanted to shoot basketball better than my father could, I wanted to throw the football farther than my father could," Kyle once told CNN/SI.
Still, his father's stature did loom large, and it was unlikely Kyle could match or surpass his accomplishments.
Not that it mattered.
"I never thought I had to live up to Richard Petty," Kyle told the Charlotte Observer. "I never had to live up to anything but what I expected."
Kyle received scholarship offers for baseball and football, but a racer he became. And at age 19, he made his Cup debut at Talladega, finishing ninth in a Petty Enterprises Dodge.
Kyle remained with his family team through 1984 before moving to the Wood Brothers in 1985, for whom he would score his first Cup victory. In all, he has eight Cup wins, all of which came with the Wood Brothers or Felix Sabates, for whom he drove from 1989 through 1996.
But in 1997, the time came for Kyle to come home and rejoin his family's team. At that point, it was clear he would never match the success his father enjoyed, though he has amassed five overall top-10 points finishes.
But Kyle finding more success wasn't necessarily the cornerstone of Petty Enterprises' future. Rather, Kyle was laying the groundwork for the team's next star, his son Adam.
Born in 1980 – a year after Richard's final championship &ndash, Adam Petty grew up watching his grandfather's career wind down as his own father's career peaked. And knowing of his great-grandfather Lee's accomplishments, it was again no surprise that a young Petty was planning to make a living out of racing.
Adam became the youngest ARCA superspeedway winner ever in 1998 and was a full-time driver in the Busch Series by 1999. He eventually made his Cup debut, like his father, at age 19, and his peers in the garage frequently described him as a happy kid who seemingly always had a smile on his face – and a sense of humor. With his grandfather being The King and his dad the prince, he considered himself "the butler."
The Cup race was at Texas, and Adam qualified 33rd, making him the first fourth-generation driver in NASCAR history. But his father missed the field, marking the first time that season that Kyle failed to qualify for a race.
Kyle did get on the track on race day – April 2, 2000, just days before Lee's death – while substituting for another driver who was injured in the race, but by then the engine in Adam's car let go, relegating him to a 40th-place finish and robbing Kyle of the opportunity to race alongside his son in Cup competition.
He never would get another chance.
A little more than a month later, on May 12, 2000, Adam was killed in a crash during a practice session at New Hampshire International Speedway.
A year earlier, Adam was asked how often he sought his father or grandfather for advice.
"My dad's more help than you can ever say in an interview," he told CNN/SI. "He's always at the car in practice. He's always helping with [the car]. … I owe everything that's ever happened to me to him. I don't know if I could have made it through this without him."
"My dad always said he didn't look at Adam like a son but like his best friend," Kyle's son Austin Petty told the Observer. "They traveled together. They played practical jokes together … They became best friends."
Kyle, with his wife and two other children, has been forced to go on without Adam. But he has memorialized his son in various ways.
First, Kyle, whose team refrained from making him or his father available to comment for this story, finished the 2000 season in his son's Busch Series car, in a sense keeping Adam's dream of being a NASCAR driver alive.
Then he fulfilled another one of Adam's wishes.
Adam had wanted to build a place where sick children could find refuge from their illnesses and have some fun just like, well, just like kids. Kyle, who for years has been involved in charitable endeavors, picked up the mantle and built the Victory Junction Gang Camp in honor of his son. The camp opened in June 2004.
A major reason Kyle continues to race rather than focusing solely on his management role with the team is to bring attention and funding to the camp, and many drivers and sponsors also have contributed to the cause.
Fans also have stepped up, voting Kyle into the Nextel All-Star Challenge last month after Coca-Cola pledged to donate $250,000 to the camp should he win the fan vote.
Kyle Petty, inspired by his son, is giving back.
It's who he is. Or at least part.
"I think my father taught me to always remember where we came from," said Kyle, who still drives the No. 45 Cup car and still runs the show at Petty Enterprises (his father also remains a fixture at the track). "We are from Randleman, N.C. It's a small, rural town. That's where we came from and we just race. That's just what we do and who we are."
A few years back at New Hampshire International Speedway, the leader of the Sunday morning chapel service made reference to the part of the Old Testament where Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son.
Maybe it was an appropriate sermon, maybe it was incredibly callous and insensitive.
Looking at Kyle Petty's face, it was hard to tell what he thought.
Petty looked forward, and he looked down on a couple of occasions. He must have known who this particular sermon was meant for.
Losing his son just yards away from where that service took place, however, certainly wasn't a sacrifice. It was a devastating and tragic loss.
But in the form of the camp, and in the efforts to bring Petty Enterprises back to prominence, and in continuing to be the stand-up person he has always been, Kyle continues to honor his son, who surely would have been proud of his dad this Father's Day.