PICKERINGTON, Ohio (Jan. 17, 2022) —The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame offers its condolences to the family, friends and fans of Preston Petty, a leading off-road and motocross racer of the late 1950s through the early 1970s and the owner of Petty Plastics, a ground-breaking plastic motorcycle component business that changed the face of motorcycle racing. Petty passed away on Jan. 16. He was 81.
Petty was born in Los Angeles on Feb. 19, 1941. He was raised in an affluent and strict Mormon family. His father, a successful attorney, tried to keep the young Petty off motorcycles.
Growing up on a hilltop in the Santa Monica Mountains, Petty was already one of the top scrambles and off-road racers in Southern California by the time he was 16. He became known as a thinking-man’s racer and was uniquely skilled at reading terrain and knowing how to get the most out of his bikes. He earned a solid reputation for winning a lot of races on smaller-displacement machines, against the more popular big bikes of the day.
To try to dissuade him from motorcycle racing, Petty’s father sent him to Brigham Young University where the required Sunday church service did not mix with a racing schedule. After leaving BYU and returning to Los Angeles, Petty went headlong into racing. He was one of the first to race Hondas before they had an American footprint and then became the first rider the company backed after they opened a U.S. headquarters.
In the early 1960s, Petty began racing novice and amateur flat track events and won numerous races at Ascot Park, a highly competitive and legendary racetrack.
With his reputation as a top-notch racer, Petty went on to race on the American team for ISDT competition in 1969, 1970 and 1971. He earned a Silver Medal in 1969 but was plagued by mechanical problems in other outings.
It was during one of these European trips that Petty introduced his newly invented plastic fenders. Months later, Petty got a call from British custom motocross builder Eric Cheney raving about the durability and popularity of the fender. With Cheney’s endorsement, the fenders became huge sellers in Europe and soon after in America as well.
The idea for the fender came after a ride where the aluminum front fender of Petty’s Maico racer broke off and he drew inspiration from a five-gallon bucket of paint. Utilizing his programming skills in computer machining to fashion a mold, he eventually came up with the optimal plastic formula for fenders.
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.
Business unfortunately took a turn for the worse, as Petty lost it all after the sale of his company on a long-term payout basis flopped when the group that purchased the rights to Petty Plastics went bankrupt in 1980.
Petty was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999. He will always be remembered for his rare combination of racing skill and technical innovation that helped revolutionize off-road motorcycling.