Maurice Petty, Hall of Fame engine builder, dies at 81

Known as “The Chief,” the son of Lee and younger brother of Richard made his mark behind the scenes

Engine builder Maurice Petty answers reporters' questions on his way to the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2014. Petty died Saturday at age 81. (Bob Leverone / AP Photo)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Maurice Petty, part of a stock car racing dynasty that includes father Lee and brother Richard and the first engine builder to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, died Saturday. He was 81.

Petty’s family did not disclose the cause of death. No funeral arrangements have been announced.

While other family members were acclaimed for their ability behind the wheel, Maurice Petty earned the nickname “The Chief” for his ability to turn a wrench. He helped his family win 198 races and seven championships in NASCAR’s premier series, and he also built engines that carried Hall of Famer Buddy Baker, Jim Paschal and Pete Hamilton to victory.

“The Chief was one of the most talented mechanics in NASCAR history,” chairman and chief executive Jim France. “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 what it took to help deliver his cars to victory lane.”

Maurice Petty was born March 27, 1939, in Level Cross. He would tail his father to the track while growing up, and his mechanical know-how soon played an integral part in Lee Petty winning 54 races and three championships.

He made 26 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series from 1960-64, finishing in the top 5 seven times with 16 top-10 runs. But he quickly decided to focus on what happened under the hood rather than what happened behind the wheel, and that proved to be a good move for his older brother, who would rely on his engines during his period of dominance.

Richard, who would take on the nickname “The King,” won his first championship along with The Chief when he drove a Plymouth to the 1964 title. They won again in 1967, back-to-back titles in 1970 and ’71, and added three more before the 1970s drew to an end. The seven titles remains tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson for the most in history.

“Maurice Petty was one of the true pioneers in NASCAR who helped build one of NASCAR’s dominant teams in Petty Enterprises,” Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley said in a statement. “Although the record shows 212 victories, Petty has well over 250 wins to his credit considering all the engines he built for his competitors. Chief will forever be remember as one of the best to build power plants in NASCAR.”

Lee Petty died in 2000 and Maurice Petty’s wife of 52 years, Patricia, died in 2014. He also was the uncle of former driver and broadcaster Kyle Petty and Truck Series crew chief Trent Owens.

“While we have lost one of NASCAR’s true, gritty pioneers and heroes, Maurice Petty’s legacy and memory will always be remembered, preserved, celebrated and cherished,” Kelley said. “We offer our sincere condolences to the Petty family.”