Kyle Petty bought his wife a car last week; Pattie Petty bought her husband a motorcycle. They knew once they got to the Daytona International Speedway, there wouldn't be a lot of time to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and Valentine's Day.
The racks have been picked clean of Valentine's Day cards at most stores in town; nearly every restaurant in town stopped taking reservations a week ago.
Valentine's Day generally falls in the middle of the racing frenzy known as SpeedWeeks and it leaves little time for drivers to profess their love in a normal way. The Pettys, for example, have more important, more lasting, plans: A quiet evening together. "We had our time together before we got to town," Kyle Petty said.
The Pettys have one of the more enduring romances among NASCAR couples. Theirs is a relationship that continues to grow amid the pressure, long hours and heartbreak required to survive, much less succeed, in the business.
Together, often hand-in-hand, they have celebrated victories. And buried a child — Kyle's son, Adam, who died in a crash at the New Hampshire International Speedway in 2000.
Kyle Petty says one of the keys to the Victory Junction Gang Camp is improving a child's self image
They tackle the daunting responsibilities of getting the family business back on track. Much of their relationship is connected by cell phones as the husband bounces from town to town with the rest of the traveling circus while the wife works on a project every bit as demanding as racing — the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
The camp, built near the Petty Enterprises shops in Randleman, N.C., will give critically ill children a place to ride horses, swim, fish and play games. The parents have learned to turn the pain of their son's death into dedication to making the camp open on time in June.
"Every day is a bad day because I miss Adam," Kyle Petty said. "But having Pattie here lightens that burden. I lean on her. I've always enjoyed being married to her. I was meant to be with her." Dale Jarrett, another driver who's spent every Valentine's Day at Daytona either watching his father race or driving himself, said his wife, Kelley, is every bit as responsible for his success as a strong engine and a fast car.
"Behind every successful man, there's usually a woman behind him pushing him along," he said. "I know for a fact I wouldn't be where I am without Kelley. She's pushed me along at times in my career when I was ready to give up." "We see the potential in our husbands that nobody else sees," Pattie Petty said.
NASCAR Busch Series Grand National driver Adam Petty died after crashing into the wall during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway
The Jarretts also will spend Valentine's Day alone at their motor home. "The quiet time we get together is more special to us because we get so little time together," Jarrett said. "That's how we celebrate." Racing is no different than society, where marriages sometimes crumble.
Dale Earnhardt was married three times and Bill Elliott divorced his high school sweetheart shortly after winning the 1998 championship.
Jeremy Mayfield, Mike Skinner and Jeff Gordon recently got divorced, but Gordon got all the headlines. His relationship with Brooke Shealy was a fairy tale. They met in Victory Lane at Daytona and had a whirlwind love affair that made them the most-recognizable couple in the business.
Brooke filed for divorce nearly two years ago, and the couple's personal life became fodder — especially the fight over a South Florida mansion, jets, sports cars, yachts and household servants — for news magazine television shows and gossip columns.
A woman claiming to have had an affair with the driver posed shirtless in Playboy magazine. "A lot of these younger people don't have the obstacles or hurdles that we faced," Pattie Petty said. "This is not an easy life. The money wasn't always like it is now. There were lots of times when I stayed home with the kids because we couldn't afford to travel. "When you have to work through problems together, it makes you stronger. Some of these younger couples don't experience that."
Kyle Petty speaks to the media to announce the construction of a new Victory Junction camp to be located in Kansas while his wife Patty looks on prior to practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Camping World RV 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 26, 2008 in Kansas City, Kansas.
Kyle was 18 when he got married. He was just starting a career in the sport and his father wasn't happy about his son splitting his attention at such an early age.
"I thought he was too young," Richard Petty said. "We were trying to start his racing deal. But they've survived since 1979. It's worked. I think they understood what he wanted to do; they understood what she wanted to do and they made it work." It worked, Kyle Petty said, because of the things he learned from his parents.
"Pattie's parents have been married 30-35 years," he said. "My parents have been married forever. My grandparents were married forever. We watched them work on their marriages. We saw what it takes to fix a problem instead of running away from it or quitting. We've been happily married because it's all we know."
Kyle Petty talks about Lee Petty
(According to savannahnow)