‘First Lady of NASCAR’ and ‘BobWal’ leave lasting legacies
This really has been a tough week for NASCAR. Darrell and Michael Waltrip lost their brother Bobby on Sunday. Then on Tuesday, word came that the First Lady of NASCAR, Lynda Petty, had succumbed after a valiant four-year fight with cancer. Our broadcasting buddy, John Roberts, also lost his father.
So yes, the NASCAR family as a whole is going through one of those moments that are unfortunately part of life. Thankfully, we have each other to fall back on for comfort and support.
When it comes to Lynda Petty, well, it’s pretty simple. Richard Petty is The King and his wife was The Queen. This sweet woman had seen it all in our sport. From the very beginning where you drove long nights simply to get to the track in time, to the day of jet planes and motorcoaches. She saw the day where you had just a handful of employees and friends helping on the race cars, to today where there are sometimes 300-500 employees in some of these mega-organizations.
Racing for the Petty’s wasn’t a hobby. It wasn’t something they did in their spare time. Racing was how they made their living. Lynda was right there in the middle of the very good and, sadly, the very bad times. She was the matriarch. She was the glue that held everything together from the racing side, to simply raising the kids while Richard was off racing.
Today these teams have the luxury of being able to have food prepared and served out of the back of the transporter. In my time in the sport, many a meal was eaten out of the back of a station wagon. I personally, through the kindness of Lynda Petty, enjoyed a sandwich out of the back of the Petty station wagon. She was very quick to give me a hug and ask, "Hey, you want something to eat?" That’s just how she was and how she took care of you.
She was just so sweet and gracious. She was like your Mom-Away-From-Home when we all were on the road weekend after weekend. She was one of those classy kinds of ladies who always spoke to you and always seemed to have a smile on her face anywhere you saw her.
The last time I got to see her and spend a few minutes with her was at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction. Even in her weakened condition, she was as gracious as always and so full of life. She is one of those people that you are thankful you got to know, and also know she is going to be sorely missed. She was just one of those special people.
When it comes to Bobby Waltrip — BobWal — as we all called him, well, he was kind of the unknown Waltrip when you had Darrell and Michael out there on the track or now working for FOX. He had that same Waltrip personality and a lot of energy.
He was always striving to make a mark. He worked with me when we started the Western Auto team in 1991. He was one of those guys you could give a whole range of different assignments to and he would hustle around to get them all completed for you.
After Darrell sold the race team in 1998, Bobby moved on and made his own mark in a different style of racing — go cart racing. Like Darrell and Michael, Bobby loved racing go carts growing up. He still loved the sport and was able to get into announcing go cart races, promoting races and even racing when he could.
Bobby was just a great guy. He had a great family and his son Lee-Bob is a great young man who now has his own young family. Bobby’s passing hit all of us hard. Bobby had been through a lot and endured a lot in his 60 years, so when we got the word that he had passed away, I honestly don’t think anyone saw it coming. BobWal is definitely going to be missed.