puppy dog, had followed Petty around the Grand National circuit for the past two years trying to learn at the feet of the master. Early in the year,on one pretext or another,Hamiltoncalled Petty inLevel Cross,N.C., and on Jan. 6 Richard invited him over. Level Cross (pop. 100, mostly
Pettys) is located just north of Randleman and just west of Climax. After an afternoon's conversation Petty took onHamiltonwith a handshake.The next day Pete went to work.On Feb. 22Hamiltonhunched himself, all arms and elbows, over the steering wheel of his SuperBird, and out-gutted Ford veteranDavid Pearson
to the finish line in theDaytona 500(SI, March 2), perhaps the most prestigious of Grand National races, and became an instant hero. In Aprilhe coasted home one lap in front of the field in the Alabama500 at the newTalladegaspeed-way. Last Sunday, at theMichigan International
Speedway, he started on the pole in the Motor State 400 and had a rousing wheel-to-wheel battle with the veteranCale Yarborough, ultimately
losing to Cale by a mere two-tenths of a second. (Pete protested later that the scorers had given Cale a lap too many; i.e., that he had won.)Instant success, however, has created instant problems. On the light side, sinceHamiltonis from the North, articulate and gregarious, and aone-year collegian (tough in the sciences, not so tough in the arts), he has a background different from that of the majority of his fellow stockers. As The Christian Science Monitor said recently: "His hands are clean. His hair is combed. His suit is pressed and he doesn't use don't in hissentences where there should be doesn'ts. You keep looking at him to see where they pinned the Good Housekeeping seal of approval." It's notthe kind of thing that helpsHamiltonto be accepted.Worse, however, is when people come up toPettyand kid him about his "Hamilton-blue racer" and about being "Hamilton's No. 2 driver." Pete
cringes."Hey, listen," he says. "I want to tell these guys that I got where I am because of this man. Everything I am I owe to him. He has won 105 GrandNational races and I've won two. At that rate..." and his voice trails off.In a more serious vein, older drivers who have struggled for years to accomplish whatHamiltonhas in four months are naturally resentful of hissudden success. One factory driver said, "He's young and single and would be happy making $100 a week. It's a perfect situation. He's a littlesmart-alecky, but I guess he's entitled to that."Hamiltonapproaches every race weekend with the enthusiasm of a kid about to start his first soapbox derby and is ribbed unmercifully by the twodozen Petty mechanics because, as one of them, Richie Barsz, said recently, "You let them chauffeurs get the big head, they ain't worth adamn."Hamilton's overall record of consistency—seven finishes (two firsts, one second, one third, two fifths and an eighth) in eight starts—is perhapsmore impressive even than his victories. By nature he is a charger, but in none of his races has he immediately gone to the front. "It's tough tostay back," he says. "It only means 300 or 400 less rpm, and when you see a guy in front of you, you want to show your backside to him.Drivers don't like to look bad, but you've got to swallow your pride and lay back." In his two winsHamiltonled for only a total of 32 laps out of 388.Hamiltonis doing the best he can to embrace his adopted region. He shuttles the 100 miles between his bachelor pad inCharlotteand the
50-acrePettycompound in Level Cross and says, "All I want out of racing is to stay with the Pettys until I retire and then move to Randleman andraise a family."So far there have been few problems.Hamiltonstill cannot quite believe his good fortune, and for his partPettysays, "I took on Pete for a lot of
reasons. There are other drivers who probably could win, but he doesn't want to just drive. He wants to work on the cars, he's determined, he'sgood public relations and he thinks a lot. That's important."Hamiltonis also a good listener. Every now and thenPettywill take him off into a corner and volunteer another piece of high-speed advice. In a
minuteHamiltonwill come away, a slightly sheepish look on his face, and say, "Well, that's lesson No. 428."By all appearances their relationship has been one of near-perfect understanding. But lurking on the horizon is an obvious and potentiallydevastating situation. It is this: one of these days youngPete Hamiltonand old proRichard Pettywill be running side by side in their twin
SuperBirds in the dying moments of a major race and each will have a chance for the checkered flag. It hasn't happened yet, but it is a situationthat intrigues all of the Grand National drivers, especiallyHamilton. Will Pete pull over and let the boss win? Not likely. "I've thought about it a lot,"saidHamilton, "and I think Richard would be disappointed if I didn't race him."Which brought to mind an attitudeHamiltonhad expressed over a year earlier—beforeDaytonaand Alabama, beforePetty, before his $85,000.
"Would you get in a race car," he was asked, "if you knew beforehand that there was no possible way for you to get hurt in it, that it was totallysafe?"
A light heart and heavy foot have rocketed Pete Hamilton - 06.15.70 - SI Vaulthttp://cnnsi.printthis.clickability.com/pt/cpt?expire=&title=A+light+heart...2 of 32/3/2013 6:48 PM