GREENSBORO, N.C., April 5 -- Lee Petty, the winner of the first Daytona 500 and a pioneer of a NASCAR racing family that includes his son Richard Petty, died at a North Carolina hospital on Wednesday at age 86.
Petty died at Cone Hospital in Greensboro where he was being treated for complications of a stomach aneurysm. Doctors said he never recovered from surgery he underwent for the aneurysm in early February.
Petty was a three-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion and competed in a 1949 race in Charlotte that was the first in what became today's Winston Cup circuit.
In 1949, he formed Petty Enterprises, which NASCAR describes as the most-winning organization in American motor sports.
"I've always felt the man who works the hardest gets the most out of it," Petty once said.
Petty won 54 races in 10 full seasons, ranking seventh in all-time wins on the NASCAR circuit, behind six other drivers who each ran more than 10 years. In 429 NASCAR Winston Cup Series starts, Petty had 283 top-5 finishes and 376 top-10s.
"Lee raced in our first Winston Cup event in Charlotte, won the inaugural Daytona 500 and played a leadership role in the early growth of our sport," NASCAR president Bill France said.
Petty is in the National Motorsports Press Association's hall of fame. In 1996, he became the first motorsports figure to be inducted into the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame.
"Everybody in NASCAR lost a really important member of the family today," said driver Jeremy Mayfield. "Out hearts go out to the Petty family."
Petty's son, Richard, became known as the "King" of stock-car racing by winning 200 races and seven championships.
Four generations of Petty's family have raced in NASCAR, including Petty's great-grandson, 19-year-old Adam Petty, who debuted Sunday on the Winston Cup circuit at the Texas Motor Speedway Sunday.
A private gravesite service for family members is scheduled this week.NEWLN: