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Leading a new Petty pack // Kyle Petty and his children continue family's high-speedtradition

Kyle Petty is finding out just what he put his mother and father through. Kyle is Lynda and Richard's son. He's 29, a veteran of 11 years on the NASCAR circuit. But to Lynda, he'll always be her baby boy.

"I probably worry more about Kyle than I did about Richard," Lynda said. "You bring a child into the world and you take on that responsibility. A mother never loses that feeling."

Adam Petty, Kyle's son, Lynda and Richard's grandson, is 9 now. "He's just starting to race Go Karts," Kyle said. "It's different watching him race than it is watching someone else's kid. You hold your breath a lot more. You never wonder whether he's going to survive it. You wonder whether you will."

Adam is the older of Kyle and Pattie's two boys. Austin is 7. He's riding motorcycles.

There's another Petty in the household. Montgomery. She's 4.

"The only thing she drives," Kyle said, "is me crazy."

Adam and Austin were driving before they were 6 years old back home in Randleman, N.C., headquarters for the Petty clan since Grandpa Lee was a boy.

"They're pretty much used to speed by now," Kyle said. "They terrorize the neighborhood." He shrugged. "That's just the way it is. That's the way it's always been, like when I was a little boy, like when Daddy was."

When Kyle was just a little Petty, messing around with motorcycles and Go Karts at age 8, "I never thought, 'This is what I have to do.' And I never heard from my parents, 'This is what you're going to do.' " Richard didn't care what Kyle wanted to pursue. "Whatever he wanted, that's what I was going to help him in," Richard said. "I know if you drive a child to do something he doesn't want to do, he's not going to do it well."

Says Kyle: "Whatever they want, that's fine. And if they wind up saying, 'Give me the keys to the race car, Dad,' that's fine, too."

Kyle didn't catch racing fever until he was about 15, becoming the third generation of stock-car-racing Pettys. He joined the NASCAR circuit three years later.

"The guys in the garage area, I've known most of them since I was 8 years old, since I started coming to the race track with my father," Kyle said. "They've known me forever. Some of them probably have no idea how old I am."

When Grandpa Lee Petty began racing here, the races were run on the beach. He won the first Daytona 500 when this track opened in 1959.

Richard ran his first one that year, too. Back then, stock-car racing in general was a fairly well-kept secret and interest in the sport pretty much limited to the Southeast.

"They'd go places and race, and nobody would even know they were in town," Kyle said. "So you can't compare what I'm going through to what he went through."

What Kyle goes through now is having to carry a last name that has become nationally synonymous with stock-car racing. But in a sport that has become far more businesslike and sophisticated, Kyle doesn't have to suffer the indignities visited upon his father, namely, "So you're Lee's kid, eh? Well, let's see what you got, boy."

"It doesn't matter any more that I'm a Petty," Kyle said. "I've been around long enough now that I don't have to prove anything just 'cause I'm a Petty."

Lee was a banger. If he couldn't get around you, he'd ram you out of the way. Richard was more a gentleman racer - although it is said he could afford to be since his cars were so much faster than anyone else's.

Kyle is more like his dad - but until this year he did it without the equipment edge Richard had in the 1960s and '70s, when he truly was King Richard.

Kyle didn't finish a race in the top five until his third year on the Winston Cup circuit and didn't win until his eighth year. He has won two of his 274 career starts and $2,500,409. By the start of his eighth year, King Richard had 36 wins. Now he has 200 out of 1,098 starts, and career earnings of $6,971,594. That reflects how the purses have grown. Richard won $760 in 1958, his first year (nine races, no wins). Kyle won $10,810 his first year, 1979 (five races, no wins).

"Last year, Kyle did what a driver is supposed to do," said Gary Nelson, his team manager. "He kept his foot to the floor and tried to get to the front. He took cars farther than they were capable of going. It was not the kind of equipment you run up front with. This year we have new cars. No worn-out equipment."

"This is really the first time in the last nine years that I've come out of the box with new cars," said Kyle, who struck out on his own two years ago after having driven for the family-owned Petty Enterprises. "When I drove for Daddy, I drove his old cars. This year is where I've tried to get for maybe 10 years - to the point where I'm driving the best car I can get."

Twin 125s facts What: Twin 125-mile qualifying races, to set remainder of field for Sunday's Daytona 500.

Where: Daytona International Speedway's 2.5-mile track, Daytona Beach.

When: Today, 12:30 p.m. 1989 winners: Ken Schrader, 147.203 mph, Chevrolet; Terry Labonte, 189.554 mph, Ford.

Twin 125 record: Terry Labonte, 189.554 mph, Ford, 1989.

Tickets: Infield admission, $20; infield car parking, $5; infield RV parking, $25; paddock admission, $15; unreserved grandstand, $35.

Radio: WQYK-1010.