Preston Petty was a leading off-road and motocross racer of the late 1950s through the early 1970s. He was one of the first riders in the country to race Honda motorcycles. Petty rode for America in three International Six-Day Trials (ISDT, now known as ISDE) events and was one of the early proponents of bringing European-style motocross to America.
Here are a dozen fun facts about Petty, who was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
1. Petty is perhaps best known for his ground-breaking plastic motorcycle component business, Petty Plastics. His fenders became the gold standard during the 1970s and nearly all serious racers scrapped their stock fenders for Petty units.
2. Petty was born in Los Angeles in 1941. He was raised in an affluent and strict Mormon family.
3. His father was a successful attorney and tried in vain to keep young Preston off motorcycles.
4. By the time he was 16, Petty was already one of the top scrambles and off-road racers in Southern California.
5. His dad tried to bribe Petty into giving up motorcycling by buying him a new Volvo automobile when he was 16. He got the Volvo but couldn’t find a way to keep himself off the racetrack. He tried to hide his racing endeavors from his parents, and was successful for a time, but eventually was found out.
6. The next attempt to put young Preston on the straight and narrow was to send him to the esteemed Brigham Young University. There, Petty traded his Volvo for a Buick Roadmaster and $600. He then went to Wayne Moulton’s Triumph shop in Salt Lake City and plunked down the 600 bucks on a new Triumph Tiger Cub, which he kept in his dorm. He got caught and decided to quit school.
7. Back in Los Angeles in the early 1960s, Petty raced Hondas in scrambles events. He was the first rider Honda backed in America.
8. Petty rode on the American’s vase team in the ISDT in 1969, 1970 and 1971. He earned a Silver Medal in 1969, but experienced mechanical problems with his bikes in the other outings.
9.The idea for his plastic fender business came after a ride where the aluminum front fender of Petty’s Maico racer broke off. Using the seemingly indestructible five-gallon paint buckets as inspiration, spent months of trial and error coming up with the optimal plastic formula to use in the fenders. He thought if he could eventually sell 2,000 fenders that it would be worth the effort and investment. But Petty’s fenders sold at a rate of 2,000 per day at the peak of sales.
10. In 1972, Petty opened a factory in Oregon and expanded his line of products. During this period, he scaled back his racing efforts to concentrate on his growing business.
11. His enterprise might have made him a rich man, but by 1980, Petty lost it all after the sale of his company on a long-term payout basis went awry when the group that purchased the rights to his Petty Plastics went bankrupt. But in recent years the company has been revived with Petty's blessing.
12. When inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Petty was living quietly in the Los Angeles area and working as a computer programmer.