Originally created 07/04/99

Petty's 'back to normal'



DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Reports of Richard Petty's demise - that, and an extended vacation - were greatly exaggerated.

The King is lighter, but very much alive and ready to work.

Petty, NASCAR's winningest driver and the sport's living legend, spoke publicly Saturday for the first time since sustaining two bleeding ulcers 11 days ago, saying his recovery was on schedule and he planned to continue his duties as a car owner.

"Everything's back to normal," Petty, 61, said before Saturday night's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. "I ran a little low on STP there. They filled me up and I was ready to go."

Petty, who missed last week's Winston Cup race at Sears Point, flew to Daytona Beach Saturday after being absent from Daytona on Friday, his birthday.

It was the first time Petty had not been in Daytona on his birthday since 1965, when he was driving for Chrysler, which boycotted Daytona that year.

"We were able to do a home-alone deal, me and Linda," Petty, referring to his wife, Linda, said with a laugh. "We sent everybody else off. It was a good vacation.

"As far as I know, it must have been 50 years since I've been home for my birthday."

Petty was eating dinner the night of the incident, and passed out, blackening his eye on the dining-room floor in his Randleman, N.C., home.

He was rushed to the hospital, where Petty said, "they messed around with me for about a half-hour and found out I was bleeding inside."

Doctors fused two bleeding ulcers together, by which time Petty lost an estimated 40 percent of his blood. Doctors administered three pints of blood, but by then, he was dehydrated, forcing him to remain in the hospital until the following Sunday. He wanted the Winston Cup race in Sears Point, and was released that night.

Petty, who said he lost 10 to 12 pounds during the ordeal, said he was cleared by doctors to make the trip to Daytona, with their only orders to take "water with you wherever you go," Petty said.

"They said it would be OK," said Petty, who won a record 200 Winston Cup races and now runs Petty Enterprises, which owns two Winston Cup cars, those driven by John Andretti and his son, Kyle Petty. "I wanted to come. Linda wanted to come, but she was concerned about my health.

"It was strictly a health concern, and the doctors said to go down there and make sure you don't get dehydrated, and everything will be OK."

Petty said he expects to be back to full strength in "a week or two" and that he doesn't expect his health to keep him from future races, or to change his role at Petty Enterprises. Petty underwent surgery in 1978 and had about 40 percent of his then-ulcerated stomach removed.

Petty said the only long-term change he expects from the most recent incident is he will take pills to reduce stomach acid, "for a long, long time," he said.

"I just stayed at home this week because I figured I'd been dehydrated, and all this hot air down here wouldn't be too good on my health anyway," he said. "I've had ulcers since (1978), and that doesn't slow down the racing part. I don't think this will slow my moving around either."