- On Nov. 15, 1992, Richard Petty made the last of his record 1,184 career NASCAR Cup Series starts in the Hooters 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
- On that same day, Jeff Gordon made the first of his 805 starts on the same 1.5-mile track.
- Petty started 39th at AMS, wrecked early and went to the garage.
The 1992 Hooters 500 near Atlanta wasn’t a “passing of the torch” moment because nobody could see that far ahead. But it was certainly a memorable event in Cup Series racing, one that few on hand that Sunday afternoon will ever forget.
On Nov. 15, 1992, Richard Petty made the last of his record 1,184 starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway. On that same day, Jeff Gordon made the first of his 805 starts on the same 1.5-mile track.
Petty had won 200 races and seven championships in a 35-year career. Gordon would end his 25-year career (1992-2015) with four championships and 93 victories, third all-time behind Petty’s 200 and David Pearson’s 105. From Petty’s debut in 1959 through Gordon’s retirement after 2015, one or the other or both had raced in upwards of 2,000 consecutive events.
The long-anticipated and elaborately hyped race was more a Godspeed from fans to Petty than a welcome from them to Gordon. After all, the future superstar was hardly known by fans whose loyalty went past his five Xfinity Series victories. To some, Gordon was overhyped because of his USAC open wheel successes on TV; in others, he was destined to be the next great thing, witness his coveted ride with owner Rick Hendrick.
Without question, Petty had lingered too long. Eight years after his last victory in 1984, he was burdened with a 240-race losing streak. He started 39th at AMS, wrecked early and went to the garage. He returned near the end to avoid yet another DNF. He ended his career at half-speed on the cooldown lap, grinning, and waving to fans. He seemed to be enjoying himself.
As for Gordon: he quietly started 21st, crashed out at exactly halfway, and finished 31st. It’s probably safe to assume nobody noticed.