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Richard Petty had a legendary NASCAR career, but it didn’t come without tragedy. In 1975, Petty‘s brother-in-law and trusted pit crew member, Randy Owens, was killed during a tragic pit accident while trying to save Petty from his burning, smoking race car.

Richard Petty gave his brother-in-law a job in his pit crew

In 1958, when Richard Petty was just getting started on his NASCAR career, he got married to Lynda Owens. Owens’ younger brother, Randy, quickly fell in love with auto racing himself.

When he was finally old enough, Randy joined Petty’s team as a pit crew member. Randy always looked up to his superstar brother-in-law, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps.

“Randy idolized Richard,” Lynda Owens told the Daily Press in 1992. ”He was four when we got married. He spent a lot of time with us and traveled with us, he was like another son to all of us.”

Randy Owens was tragically killed trying to save Richard Petty from his smoking car

By 1975, Randy Owens had become one of the most trusted members of Richard Petty’s pit crew despite being just 20 years old. Petty ended up winning the Cup Series championship at the end of the season, but tragedy struck along the way.

During the 1975 Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Petty’s No. 43 car started smoking and flaming near the right front tire. Petty pulled into pit row as his crew scrambled to put out the flame. As Petty was being pulled from the race car, a crew member grabbed a hose and asked for more water to douse the flame. Owens leaned over a pressurized water tank and opened the valve to help feed more water through a hose. Immediately after he opened the valve, the tank exploded, sending Owens 15 feet in the air. He died instantly of a crushed heart.

”That ruined our year and made things awfully hard at home,” Petty said. ”Lynda sort of raised Randy and we were all real close. It was a freak thing, but most accidents are like that.

”It really hit the crew hard. Some of the wives realized that just because their husband was in the pits, didn’t mean they were absolutely safe. It took a long time for everybody to get over it.”

Petty was crushed by the sudden and tragic loss of his brother-in-law, but he went on to win the Cup Series championship at the end of the 1975 season in his honor.

Richard Petty’s NASCAR career

GOAT debates are the talk of the town in sports nowadays. Michael Jordan or LeBron James? Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? Tom Brady or… well, no one. In nearly every major sport, there’s a debate to be had about who the greatest of all time truly is, but that’s not the case in NASCAR.

That label indisputably belongs to Richard Petty.

In 35 years on the Cup Series, Petty racked up a NASCAR-record 200 career wins. No other race car driver has ever won more than 105. Petty is also tied for first place in Cup Series championships with seven. He won four titles in a dominant span of five years from 1971-75.

Petty owns more NASCAR records than any driver who’s ever competed on the Cup Series. Aside from his record for career wins and championships, Petty is also tops in poles (123), wins in a season (27), consecutive wins (10), and starts (1,185).

It’s likely none of Petty’s incredible records are ever broken in NASCAR, and that’s why they call him “The King.”