Garrett Loyd had never seen Richard Petty race during his lifetime. He missed that opportunity by nearly five years after Petty’s final NASCAR Cup Series start. Yet, on Loyd’s dirt late model sportsman, he proudly carries the number Petty made famous as a seven-time Cup champion.
Loyd’s interest in the No. 43 didn’t initially stem from the driver dubbed the “King.” Instead, it started around the age of five, when Loyd had a chance encounter with a show car.
“At the time, John Andretti ran the No. 43 Cheerios car,” said Loyd, 24, of Centre, Alabama. “Red Lobster was an associate sponsor, and my mom worked there. [During] NASCAR Talladega weekend, they brought [the show car] to Red Lobster. That’s where my love for the No. 43 started. I loved the Cheerios paint scheme. As I grew up, I learned about Richard Petty, and I admire the success he had.”
Loyd’s father, Greg Loyd, raced, too. Instead of racing Petty’s number, the elder Loyd ran 28 on his mini stocks in honor of Alabama’s native son in the Cup Series, the late Davey Allison.
Loyd often races at the Talladega Short Track, just two-and-a-half miles down Speedway Boulevard from the Talladega Superspeedway. Despite the proximity, even those who regularly attendthe Talladega Short Track say that NASCAR is out of touch with their world. Loyd, who considers himself a NASCAR fan and watches all the races on DVR, understands that perception.
“It’s more of a divide than it used to be,” Loyd said. “I remember, maybe 10 years ago, when NASCAR would come to town, at least five to seven [NASCAR racers] would come over to the dirt track and drive late models. I thought that was the coolest thing.”
Loyd sees NASCAR making efforts to reconnect with the hardcore short-track racing audience.
“I applaud NASCAR and Bristol for putting the dirt on it, bringing it a little bit closer to local fans,” said Loyd.
Incidentally, Petty criticized the NASCAR Cup Series’ return to dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I’m looking at it from an old-time deal because we spent years and years and years trying to become a professional sport,” said Petty in an October Autoweek article. “Years and years to get away from that stigma. But dirt-track racing is not professional, so we’re going backward. It would be like taking a professional football team and going back to play at a high school field.”
Regardless, Garrett Loyd still holds Petty in high regard. In March, Loyd got a taste of racing on Bristol’s dirt, steering his car in the 602 late model class during the Bristol Dirt Nationals.
“It was a dream come true,” Loyd said. “The first time I went to Bristol was in 2005. The paint scheme I have on the car is similar to what the No. 43 car had in 2005 and 2006 at the Bristol night races, with Jeff Green driving.
“When I pulled down into the infield, my eyes lit up. It was wild. Then, to see to see [the NASCAR Cup Series] turning slower lap times than I was turning, I was like, ‘Hey, I did that, and I was quicker.’ It was a surreal feeling.”
The Outside Groove Executive Editor has covered motorsports since 2000. His many awards include the 2019 Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) Jim Hunter Writer of the Year and the 2013 Russ Catlin Award for Excellence in Motorsports Journalism.