Richard Petty Miraculously Escaped Death in a Violent Crash Early in His NASCAR Career

Richard Petty‘s incredible NASCAR career spans well over three decades. Petty reached some incredible highs throughout his time behind the wheel but also went through some scary moments. One of those came early in his career that nearly cut his life short.

Richard Petty’s illustrious racing career

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Over his three-plus decades on the NASCAR track, Richard Petty strung together an incredible professional racing career.

Petty experienced a tremendous amount of success as he holds numerous NASCAR records. He is the all-time leader with 200 career wins and tied for first with seven NASCAR Cup Series championships. 

Petty helped transform the sport behind his unmatched success, earning him the vaunted status as arguably the greatest driver in the sports’ history. Five years after his retirement in 1992, he received induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and later as the part of the first class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

However, all that nearly came to a sudden stop in the prime of his career in disastrous fashion.

Richard Petty miraculously escapes a brutal car crash

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A decade into his professional racing career, Richard Petty established himself as one of the sports best drivers. 

All that nearly came to a crashing halt in May 1970 during the Rebel 400 at Darlington. The trouble began when Petty suffered front damage to his car after hitting the wall but remained in the race. 

According to NBC Sports, disaster struck a few moments later on lap 176 as his steering failed causing him to hit the outside wall and back at nearly full speed into the frontstretch wall. The momentum of the collision sent his vehicle flipping over several times before resulting in his car becoming upended with him dangling from his seat.

The immediate reaction from the incident was concern over possible serious physical injuries. The initial visual image from the broadcast showed red around his head, which onlookers first thought to be blood. However, that wound up being red rags he carried with him during his races. (H/T Nascar All Out)

“At the time I used to run with a rag in my mouth,” Petty said. “Well, them rags got to coming out the windows and stuff. It looked terrible.”

The crash initially knocked Petty unconscious, leading the paramedics to taking him to a local hospital in South Carolina. Following the accident, he voiced that he didn’t remember hitting the interior wall as the contact with the outside wall knocked him out. 

Following that traumatic incident, the doctors at the local hospital diagnosed him with only a broken left shoulder. 

He missed the next five Grand National races and returned in June that year for the Michigan International Speedway. Petty won the next two races after that at Riverside and Kingsport Speedway, which was part of the 18 victories in the 40 events after the wreck.

The King continues tremendous his career

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Following the near fatal accident, Richard Petty went on to put together some highly successful years.

Beyond the immediate success in 1970, he won his final five of his seven NASCAR Cup Series championships over the next decade (1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979). Petty continued to stack up career marks with five of his seven career Daytona 500 victories after that brutal crash. 

Although it wasn’t the last scary accident of his illustrious career, things could have easily seen his life end in an extremely tragic manner.