NASCAR Hall of Fame engine builder, Maurice Petty dies aged 81

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 29: Maurice Petty answers questions from the media following his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 29, 2014 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images)

Maurice Petty, who supplied the horsepower that propelled his brother Richard Petty to nearly all his 200 NASCAR Cup Series victories and seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, has died. The Richard Petty Motorsports team announced that Maurice passed away Saturday morning surrounded by his family. He was 81.

Simply known as the “Chief” was one of the best engine builders in the history of the sport, and an often behind-the-scenes member of the Petty dynasty. Maurice was the fourth member of the family dynasty to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame — following his older brother Richard, father Lee Petty and his cousin Dale Inman.

“Never did. Didn’t then and don’t right now,” Maurice Petty said in 2013 when asked if he’d felt passed over in previous years. “It really makes me happy, because that means I was part of all of them getting in. They’ve got all of us in now.”

Petty, born in 1939 in Level Cross, North Carolina, was the first engine builder to be inducted into the prestigious Hall of Fame. He is credited with 212 wins as an engine builder, according to Richard Petty Motorsports. The stock-car racing pioneer also served as the occasional crew chief and was later the team’s general manager.

“The ‘Chief’ was one of the most talented mechanics in NASCAR history,” Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO, said in a statement. “He provided the power that helped Petty Enterprises define dominance in sports. While he was known for his work under the hood, Maurice played multiple “behind-the-scenes” roles, doing whatever it took to help deliver his cars to Victory Lane. On behalf of the France family, I offer my condolences to the friends and family of Maurice Petty, a true NASCAR giant.”

Maurice had a brief driving career — 26 premier series races with seven top-five and 16 top-10 finishes between 1960 and 1964 — but found his calling in the shop.

Petty, 21 months younger than his elder sibling Richard, overcame polio as a child. Both Richard and Maurice worked on their father’s pit crew as teenagers. He later consulted with Dodge upon its return to NASCAR’s premier series in 2001.

Maurice built the engines that carried his brother to 198 of his NASCAR record 200 career wins. He also built engines that put drivers such as Buddy Baker, Pete Hamilton and Jim Paschal in Victory Lane.

“I was one of the first (engine builders), so it makes you like a pioneer or something,” Petty said in 2013. “We had three or four guys helping out, but not the whole time. We did it the hard way.

“I came along, and I have welded, swept the floors and I drove. I did it all up until a point — in 1964, that’s when I turned it all into building the engines.”

After Maurice was voted into the Hall of Fame, Richard Petty said that without his younger brother’s talents, “then there wouldn’t have been a Richard Petty or a Lee Petty or a Dale Inman accomplishing the things that (we) did accomplish.

“He is the engine man that everybody has to compete against.”

Leonard Wood, whose Wood Brothers Racing team often found itself going head-to-head with Petty Enterprises for supremacy in the sport, said Maurice “was doing just about everything right.”

“A very tough competitor who took his job very seriously,” Wood said in 2013. “You’ve got all those people you know you have to beat each and every week, but you knew when you went out that if you could beat him, you could win the race.

“All those years he built all those engines for the Pettys, his engines always ran up front; just very hard to beat.”

“The ‘Chief’ was one of the most talented mechanics in NASCAR history,” Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO said in a statement.  “He provided the power that helped Petty Enterprises define dominance in sports. While he was known for his work under the hood, Maurice played multiple “behind-the-scenes” roles, doing whatever it took to help deliver his cars to Victory Lane. On behalf of the France family, I offer my condolences to the friends and family of Maurice Petty, a true NASCAR giant.”