Lynda Petty, wife of Richard Petty, dies at age 72

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CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 23: Richard Petty talks to his wife Lynda Petty after being presented with his Hall of Fame jacket before the Inaugural Induction Ceremony at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 23, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images for NASCAR)
LEVEL CROSS, N.C. —

Lynda Petty, wife of seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, died Tuesday at the family's home in Level Cross, N.C.
She was 72.

"We wish to sincerely thank everyone who has supported us and our family throughout the years and at this time," the Petty family said in a statement. "We will forever love and miss a wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother and friend."

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France issued the following statement: "On behalf of the France Family and everyone at NASCAR, I want to offer sincere condolences to the Petty Family regarding the loss of their beloved matriarch, Lynda Petty.

"Through the years, Lynda became an integral part of the NASCAR landscape. We have lost a true friend, who will be missed each and every day. Our thoughts and prayers will be with the Pettys throughout this difficult time."

Lynda Petty underwent treatment in 2010 for a brain tumor and central nervous system lymphoma. Although she was eventually declared cancer-free, health issues -- including mini-strokes stemming from the treatment -- greatly reduced her physical activities in recent years.

The former Lynda Owens and NASCAR's all-time winningest driver were high school sweethearts, eventually marrying in 1958 just as Richard Petty's racing career got underway. She was 17 and still in high school; he was 21 and worked alongside his father, Lee, and brother, Maurice, in what was to become Petty Enterprises.

With her husband competing in as many as 40 or more races a year across the country, and women restricted from being in the NASCAR garage at the time, Lynda Petty remained home to run the Petty household, which eventually grew to include four children -- son Kyle Petty and daughters Sharon (Petty) Farlow, Lisa (Petty) Luck and Rebecca (Petty) Moffit.

In "A Racer's Life," which aired on the former SPEED network and detailed much of the behind-the-scenes life of the Petty family through more than six decades, Richard Petty, now 76, said the couple's responsibilities were determined from the outset.

"We sort of sat down and said, 'This is how it's going to be,' " Petty said. " 'I'm going to go out and I'm going to be gone but I'm going to make the living. You bring the kid. Make sure he's fed. You do your part and you pay the bills. I'll bring the money in and throw it on the table. You take care of everything.' That's the way it worked. She had her responsibilities and I had mine."

Eventually, the family did travel to races, and the familiar blue station wagon in which numerous meals were eaten at the track still sits parked in the Petty compound.

In later years, Lynda Petty helped found the Racing Wives Auxiliary. Known today as the Women's Auxiliary of Motorsports, Inc., its mission is to "enrich the lives of women, children and families through educational and wellness programs."

Lynda Petty served on the Randolph County School board for 16 years and was on the board of Hospice of Randolph County.

A private memorial service for family and friends will be held at Reverie Place in Randleman, N.C. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the following:

Petty Family Foundation
311 Branson Mill Road
Randleman, N.C. 27317