On April 5, 2000, stock car racing legend and NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty died in Greensboro. He was 86.
It wasn’t until age 35 that Petty began his racing career, driving a borrowed 1946 Buick Roadmaster in NASCAR’s first “strictly stock” race in June 1949 in Charlotte. That same year, Petty established a garage in a repurposed reaper shed on his family’s farm in Randleman. Over the course of his career, Petty claimed 50 wins, including three NASCAR championships and the top spot at the inaugural Daytona 500 in February 1959.
A serious wreck during a 1961 qualifying race at Daytona left Petty with a punctured lung and a badly broken leg. He recovered but only participated in six more races before his retirement in 1964. Though his racing days were behind him, Petty continued to manage his garage. Eventually he was joined by his sons, Richard and Maurice, and grandson, Kyle. Known as Petty Enterprises, the complex grew to 16 buildings, including racing workshops and fabrication facilities.
Petty’s son Richard went on to become a seven-time NASCAR champion and claimed a record 200 career victories, including seven Daytona 500 wins.
More NC History that Happened on April 5
Also, on April 5, 1919, the Camp Bragg Flying Field was renamed in memory of First Lieutenant Harley Halbert Pope, the first officer assigned to the post. Pope had been killed when the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny he was flying crashed into the Cape Fear River earlier that year.
In the early years, activity around Pope Field was so slow that pilots were asked to buzz the area to scare away grazing deer before landing. In the 1920s the primary use of the facility was for observation and balloon and bombing training. A major expansion occurred in the 1930s with a runway extension, installation of lighting and construction of a new headquarters building and two hangars. During World War II the field was used primarily for troop carrier training. Throughout these years Pope Field remained under the auspices of the Army. After the Army Air Force became a separate branch of the military in 1947, Pope became a base.
Troops from Pope have been deployed in many major conflicts including the Vietnam, Gulf and Iraq Wars as well as military actions taken in the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama and Somalia. In 2011, Pope Air Force Base was absorbed into Fort Bragg, once again becoming Pope Field.
Other related resources:
· The N.C. Sports Hall of Fame at the N.C. Museum of History, of which several NASCAR drivers are members
For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online.
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