Kyle Petty’s new book details decision to trade in race car for guitar

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 4, 2022

SALISBURY — NASCAR driver Kyle Petty was born into the world of stock car racing. Son of seven-time Cup Series champion Richard “The King” Petty, Kyle went with his dad to races starting in the late ’60s and began his own racing career about a decade later.

After being around other famous drivers like Buddy Baker and Cale Yarborough for so many years, when Petty finally started racing against them, it was a surreal moment.

“It’s just a strange feeling to watch those guys, have those guys be your heroes. Then the next thing you know, you’re out there with them. It was fun. I think anytime you get the chance to do anything with your family, but with your dad especially, it was a lot of fun and I’ll always cherish those times,” Petty said.

When Petty retired from racing in 2008, it gave him a chance to follow his other passion: music. Country singer and NASCAR driver Marty Robbins was the first person Petty saw play guitar in person when he was a kid and that inspired him to pick up the instrument at 12-years-old and the saxophone in his high school band. Listening to country stars like Conway Twitty and Willie Nelson got him started playing the guitar, but it was singer-songwriters like Carole King and James Taylor that inspired him to start writing his own songs.

Petty will be going around the state to perform some of his own songs and to promote his new book, “Swerve or Die.” His first show was at the High Rock Outfitters on Thursday night.

“This is the first time I’ll be there by myself. It’s a great little place in Lexington, good crowd, a little bit of a bar, little bit of a listening room,” Petty said. “I just sit or stand on stage, tell a few stories, play a few songs that I’ve written. All my stuff is original, so if you’re coming to hear covers don’t hold up your lighter or cell phone and scream ‘Free Bird’ because you’re going to hear it.”

Playing guitar and writing songs has been personally rewarding for Petty, but with his upcoming concerts, he feels more like the people he grew up listening to on 8-tracks back in the day.

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of fun to write music through the years and to write songs and now to finally have an opportunity to go to a place like High Rock Outfitters. To go to a place like Muddy Creek, I’ll be there in Sparta, NC on Saturday night. So, two nights in a row to go out and play, you almost feel like you’re a legitimate musician,” Petty said.

Before he goes on stage, Petty will be signing copies of his new book. Given his background in racing, a book seemed like the natural byproduct of wanting to share his life and experiences with others.

“I’m thinking, man you’ve just known a lot of eras of this sport. So you just have a lot of stories. People would always say, ‘Why don’t you write down some stories?’ So, the pandemic came along and nobody left their house and that was it. It’s not that I wanted to write it, it’s just that I didn’t have anything else to do,” Petty explained.

Petty teamed up with Ellis Henican who had helped Michael Waltrip with his book.

“Basically, someone who knew the sport already that you weren’t going to spend a lot of time educating what this word meant or that word meant because sometimes when you start talking to racing people they talk a foreign language,” Petty said.

Petty still tries to spread his love of racing in a multitude of ways. Recently he, along with his father, voiced characters in the Pixar film “Cars 3.” Petty knows doing projects like that helps “expose you to a different generation.”

“To get to do ‘Cars 3’ as Cal Weathers and his son and do it that way, that was really cool. My dad’s the only 85-year-old sports icon who has just as many six-year-old fans as he does 76-year-old fans,” Petty confirmed.

Petty is optimistic of the future of NASCAR. He praised the young talent that is taking the sport by storm and what the organization has done recently to make the sport better for everyone involved.

“A couple things have happened. I think this new car is a big plus. The Next Gen car, they went to LA last year to the LA Coliseum to run the clash there. We’re going to Chicago to run a street race in Chicago this year which is incredible to think there’s going to be NASCAR stock cars on the streets of Chicago. I think when you look at things like that and events like that, then you have to say the future’s bright,” Petty said.

Long term, Petty believes if NASCAR does its best to make the sport as competitive and entertaining as possible for fans as well as drivers, then it will continue to flourish with success.

“The thing we have to continue to do is put a good product on the race track and I think that has come back. I think for a number of years we didn’t have the best product on the race track, but that may have been the one bad thing through all the years was we lost sight of what racing really was and that’s what goes on on the race track.”


Petty says one of his greatest NASCAR moments was when he helped build the car that his father drove in the 1979 Daytona 500.

Petty with a copy of his book.