Born to Run

UPDATED 05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

For Adam Petty, 19, speed was a birthright. He was, after all, the fourth-generation heir to stock-car racing's greatest dynasty. "All his dreams and waking moments, he wanted one thing—to race," his brother Austin, 18, wrote in a eulogy for Adam's May 15 memorial service at High Point University in North Carolina. "He wanted to be a race car driver just like my dad."

And like his grandfather, the legendary Richard Petty, 62, and his great-grandfather Lee, who died only last month at 86. But Adam was a fast-rising star in his own right, which is why his death on May 12 came as such a stunning blow to the racing world. "He had huge potential," says teammate John Andretti, 37. "He could run with the best of them." Petty was practicing for the Busch 200 at the New Hampshire International Speedway when his Chevrolet Monte Carlo, doing about 130 mph, slammed into the track's outer wall, possibly because his throttle had jammed, preventing him from slowing as he went into a turn. He died instantly of severe head trauma.

Though his life surely sped by too quickly, Petty was clearly doing what he loved most. The first of three children of Kyle Petty, 39, and his wife, Pattie, Adam began driving go-carts at 6, entered his first professional car race at 17 and finished 20th in the Busch Grand National Series last year.

But it is the extraordinary bond between father and son that those who knew Adam may remember best. "Everywhere you went, they were together," says John Andretti, the nephew of racer Mario Andretti. "Every time we were sitting on the starting line, Kyle was right there. Adam would say, 'Dad, I love you. Thanks for giving me all this.' "

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