12 years ago today, NASCAR lost one of its brightest young stars on a bright afternoon that belied the somber mood in the garage. During practice for the Busch 200—a Nationwide (then Busch) Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway—the throttle on 19-year-old Adam Petty’s No. 45 Sprint Chevrolet stuck, sending him head-on into the Turn 3 wall. Petty, the first known fourth-generation athlete in his family’s chosen sport, died of a basilar skull fracture, the same injury that had killed 1996 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter Scott Brayton and longtime NASCAR driver Neil Bonnett.
Of course, we know now that Petty’s passing was just the start of an annus horribilis. His was the first of four deaths, capped off with the stunning casualty of Dale Earnhardt from the same injury in the Daytona 500 the following February. It was also one of many accidents involving a stuck throttle during that season—a mechanical gremlin that permeated all three of NASCAR’s national touring series.