This wasn’t just any teenage Late Model racer sharpening his skills at Carteret County Speedway with finishes of sixth and second in a pair of 40-lap races on a rough and tumble Saturday night.
Thad Moffitt, a grandson of Richard Petty, visited the four-tenths of a mile asphalt track for the first time. Although his bright red hair surprised fans at an autograph session at first glance, one flash of Moffitt’s big smile behind a pair of dark sunglasses was all it took for a resemblance to “the King” to come shining through.
And just like his famous grandfather, Moffitt graciously signed his autograph for all who patiently waited for a glimpse of the future. “The fans down here are great,” he proclaimed. “I’m definitely going to try to come back and do this again!”
CCS regular Michael Tilley was the fastest qualifier and led all the way in the first 40-lap NASCAR Late Model Stock Car race. Petty seemed dejected at his sixth-place effort: “That first race didn’t go anywhere like we planned.”
With a second 40-lap Late Model race to close a busy night of racing, Moffitt embraced the challenge of being the first Ford driver to win a main event on the tricky, relatively flat oval. “That just gave us something a little extra to shoot for,” he said.
His chance at making a little history here seemed to evaporate when he was caught up in a spin with two other cars as they briefly went three-wide into the track’s third turn. He nicked the concrete wall and knocked the car’s alignment out of whack.
What seemed like a small army, the visiting Empire Racing Team went to work on straightening out the kinks in Moffitt’s Petty Blue colored number 46 Mustang. They got him off the pit road just in time to resume the action.
Moffitt later showed maturity beyond his years, dodging a wreck that took out the cars of top contenders Tyler Matthews and Eric Winslow. Moffitt tried in vain to chase down leader Tilley’s number 26 Chevy in the final 15 laps.
In the end, Moffitt seemed pleased with finishing second. “My crew did a heck of a job getting it fixed and we came on there at the end. That’s more like it!”
Although he doesn’t drive a car sponsored by the department store, Moffitt knows he has a bulls-eye on his car just the same. “It’s been that way my whole life,” he said. “I grew up that way. I know I have big shoes to fill.”
The son of Brian and Rebecca Petty Moffitt was born just a few months after the life of effervescent Adam Petty (son of Kyle Petty) was lost to a racing accident at Loudon, NH. “My Mom says I was only about a month old when I went to my first race,” Moffitt mused. “I am sure it was a tough, tough time for the entire family. But I kept her busy and they kept racing. I mean, that’s just what we do.”
Another tough time for the Petty clan dealt a setback to racing plans for Moffitt when he was 10. “They bought a couple of midget cars and I was going to drive them,” Moffitt recalled. “But my grandmother (Lynda Petty) got sick and we never did.” Lynda Petty, longtime wife of Richard Petty, succumbed to cancer in March of 2o14.
“We finally got going when I was about 14 and I raced Champ Karts (go-carts) and won a bunch of races,” said Moffitt. “My family decided to move me up to stock cars and I got to do some racing in the Limited Late Model class.”
Continuing the Petty Family legacy of success, Moffitt captured a championship in his first time running a touring series – the Southeast Limited Late Model Series.
It even brought a compliment from the sport’s all-time winner, his grandfather Richard Petty: “Hey, he did pretty good for his first year. The kid has a real passion for this, so who knows how far it can take him.”
Moffitt makes no bones about his ultimate goal of driving for his iconic grandfather’s team in the big leagues one day. But he says there is only one way he wants to get there.
“I don’t want to get a ride because I am Richard Petty’s grandson,” said Moffitt. “I want the ride because I can drive. I do want to make a name for myself.”
His father Brian, who has worked for years in the marketing side of the sport at the major league level, said about 12 to 15 races in the ARCA stock car series are planned for his son in 2018. “He’s worked really hard to get this far,” said Brian Moffitt, “and we’re really proud of him. We’re all excited to have a fourth generation of Petty back on the track.”