Richard Petty, widely celebrated as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time, achieved remarkable success on the oval tracks, amassing 200 career wins and seven Cup Series championships. However, few know about his brief and controversial stint in the world of drag racing. In the mid-1960s, Petty found himself at a crossroads after NASCAR’s decision to outlaw the powerful 426-cubic-inch HEMI V8 engine. Choosing to skip the 1965 season, he turned to drag racing and drove a 1965 Plymouth Barracuda powered by a race-spec 426 HEMI. Tragically, this decision had a devastating outcome that almost ended both Petty’s career and his dragster’s existence.
Following a dominant 1964 season with Chrysler’s revolutionary 426 HEMI V8 engine, NASCAR owner Bill France controversially decided to ban the engine for the 1965 season. Instead of switching manufacturers, Richard Petty made a bold move – he opted to venture into drag racing. Emblazoned in his iconic “Petty Blue” livery and marked with the “43 JR.” lettering on its doors, Petty’s altered-wheelbase Barracuda was named “Outlawed” to protest NASCAR’s decision.
In late 1964, Richard Petty enthusiastically began his drag racing career. However, his aspirations were cut short in February 1965 during a race against Arnie Beswick. Tragedy struck when a broken front suspension sent the Barracuda careening into the crowd, injuring seven spectators and tragically claiming the life of an eight-year-old boy. Devastated by the accident, Petty was on the brink of quitting racing altogether.
In the aftermath of the tragic accident, Richard Petty ordered the mangled Barracuda to be buried on the family property behind the Petty Enterprises shop. It was an emotional decision, as the car symbolized both his protest against NASCAR’s ban and the painful memories of the tragic event. Despite the grief and turmoil, Petty eventually found the strength to return to NASCAR in late 1965. The 426 HEMI also made a comeback, propelling him to his second championship in 1967.
As years passed, the “Outlawed” Barracuda was almost forgotten, and rumors circulated that the Petty family had it scrapped. However, in a twist of fate, the dragster was rediscovered several decades later when Petty Enterprises embarked on an expansion project. A friend of the Petty family, Billy West Peedin, had been keeping the mangled car in his junkyard in Selma, North Carolina.
In July 2023, the “Outlawed” Barracuda returned to the spotlight when YouTube’s “Mopar Connection Magazine” documented Billy West Peedin’s junkyard. Now a mere pile of mangled and rusty steel, the “43 JR.” dragster bears the scars of its tragic past. Though faded, traces of the iconic “Petty Blue” color and the aluminum panel that once separated the cabin from the trunk can still be discerned.
While the “Outlawed” Barracuda remains an essential piece of Richard Petty’s history, its sad finale serves as a poignant reminder of the fragility of racing and the profound impact it can have on people’s lives. Petty’s decision to gift the car to Billy West Peedin under the condition that it never be restored speaks to the emotional significance he attached to the vehicle.
Despite the tragedy surrounding the “Outlawed” Barracuda, Richard Petty’s drag racing legacy lives on through another Barracuda he had built in 1965. This second car, adorned in the iconic “Petty Blue” livery and equipped with an eight-stack HEMI, continues to honor “The King” and his pioneering spirit in the world of motorsports.