Kyle Petty is well-known for his extensive career in racing. But it was a chance encounter with a traveling preacher that got him hooked on making music. The younger Petty hung out at the racetracks where his father competed, and one time, a preacher who happened to be there gave him his very first guitar.
The early years of music for Petty
From there, Petty learned to play guitar and eventually started writing his own music while in high school. His influences included country artists such as Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard but also sing-songwriters like Carole King, James Taylor, Harry Chapin and Jim Croce. Petty had thoughts of a music career, but coming from such a famous and successful racing family, he would become a racecar driver first and foremost.
The 80s was a time where Petty’s racing career heated up – with Petty winning in Winston Cup by the mid-80s – but it was also a decade where Petty became a well-respected opening act for country music legends such as Hank Williams Jr., Randy Travis and The Oak Ridge Boys. He also had appearances on the television show, Hee Haw.
In 1986, Petty was signed to a record contract by RCA Records and began to work on an album with the same agent who represented Jimmy Buffett, Don Light. While the album faced delays, Petty still had some great experiences. In 1987, he made his major country music debut in Hampton, Virginia, opening along with his “Petty Larceny Band” for Janie Fricke. While many thought music was a distraction from racing, Petty proved them wrong by winning the Coca-Cola 600 just two days after opening for Fricke.
By 1988, the album was back in the works. But while he did write a couple of songs, the album never made it out of production. At the same time, Petty’s racing career was hot. Petty moved to SABCO Racing, and his music career was put on hold. He focused on improving his racing and the early part of the 90s were his best years on the track. Opportunity came knocking again in 1995.
The NASCAR Album
Graham Brown convinced Petty to come out of music retirement and record a song for a NASCAR-theme country music album, titled “Runnin’ Wide Open.” Several country music stars, including Billy Ray Cyrus and Ricky Van Shelton recorded songs meant to capitalize on the popularity of NASCAR. Petty recorded a song called “Oh King Richard” as a tribute to his father, Richard Petty. The song was written by Grammy-winner Rodney Crowell. Besides the song, Petty recorded a music video, featuring him playing guitar in front of his father’s famous Number 43 racecar while the elder Petty watched highlights of his career on a screen.
After that point, the music career seemed to be on the back burner…until recently.
Round two for Petty the musician
A few years back, Petty shared that while he rode his motorcycle around, he would carry a Sharpie and write lyrics on the tank. Before this idea hit him, he would think up lyrics in his head, hit a bump and forget them. So, the tank seemed like a good place to write them down. When he stopped to gas up, he would transfer them to something permanent, then wipe the lyrics off the tank and be ready to write again. For Petty it seemed, a desire to write songs never totally went away.
Today, Petty takes his guitar with him everywhere he goes and searches for open mic nights where he can play. While just a hobby, it’s still an activity that he immensely enjoys. In fact, if he had not had a career in racing, Petty says he likely would have tried to make it in the music industry. He especially loves writing songs.
Want to see not only Kyle Petty perform but Petty’s Number 42 Coors Light Silver Bullet car at the same time? Head on over to Muddy Creek Café and Music Hall on March 18. Kyle will be performing at 2 pm with David Childers and Jonny Mont, and the car will be on display from noon to 3 pm. You can get tickets to the concert online here.
The Muddy Creek Café and Music Hall is located at 5455 Bethania Road in Winston-Salem.
Photo of Kyle Petty by Darryl W. Moran [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons