I was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan when i was growing up-a Wrangler wearing, card carrying member of his fan club. Being from New Jersey, Pocono and Dover were the two tracks my family would frequent.
However, in February of 1985 my father got tickets to Richmond. I was naturally excited because Earnhardt was having a fan club meeting that weekend.
We left early (really early) Saturday morning and got there in time for the meeting. That evening Dad asked the person at the front desk at our hotel for a good place to eat. He recommended a steak house not far from the track. Now this was during an era in NASCAR before multi-million dollar motorhomes and guarded private campgrounds. Drivers and crews would stay in regular hotels and go out to dinner, just like the rest of us.
When we got to the restaurant there was a pretty good wait for a table, not surprising considering there was a NASCAR race in town and it was Saturday night. What did surprise me was the number of drivers that were in this restaurant. Some were eating, some were waiting, and some were hanging out in the bar. For a 15-year-old race fan, it was a dream come true. I ran out to the car to get the race program I had bought earlier in the day. I started collecting autographs as soon as I got back inside, Allison, Waltrip, Bonnett (who by the way really impressed my Mom when he held the door for her), and more.
September 5, 1966, Richard Petty gets tires and fuel during the Southern 500 at Darlington
Rockingham 1983, Richard Petty ends a 42-race winless streak when he edges out Bill Elliot
Petty sneaks by his car during preparations for the May 1966 World 600 at Charlotte.
Being the loyal Earnhardt fan that I was, I had on my yellow
and blue T-shirt and my Wrangler denim jacket. I saw Richard Petty waiting with his wife Lynda not 10 feet from where we were standing so I ventured up to get the King's autograph. He signed my race program just as he had for the hundreds of thousands of fans who came before and then looked down at my shirt. "Hey son, you know Earnhardt's here," said Petty to me. "He is?" I questioned. "Come on," and Petty grabbed me by the shoulder and walked into the restaurant. "What's your name?"he asked me. "Rob," I told him still in awe of what was going on. He dragged me right up to Earnhardt's table where Dale and Teresa were having dinner. "Hey Earnhardt, got one of your fans here, his name is Rob." Earnhardt happily stopped eating and started a conversation with me while Petty stood by. The three of us talked about the upcoming race, Richmond and what I liked to do in my spare time back home.
I spent the rest of the evening in disbelief about what had happened earlier in the night. I had to be one of the luckiest young fans in the history of the sport I remember thinking. After all, not only did I get a slew of autographs that night, but I got to meet my favorite driver and was introduced to him by Richard Petty. Petty didn't have to take the time to do that. He could have very easily signed the autograph and then went about his way, after all while we were talking with Earnhardt Lynda had been seated. But the fact that he did take the time and was genuinely interested in one young fan wearing another driver's color is the very reason that the King is the King.
Petty is all smiles after winning the 1966 Dixie 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Quick Bio
Born: July 2, 1937
Hometown: Level Cross, NC
Wife: Lynda Petty
Petty clowns around with Darrell Waltrip (center) and Bobby Allison (right).
Petty and his wife, Lynda, laying out the design for a new driver's uniform in the game ro
The STP Dodge where it was so often found, in the lead.
Petty makes a pit stop at Pocono International Raceway sometime in the mid-70's.
Did you know?
-200 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Wins
-7-Time NASCAR Winston Cup Champion (1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979)
-A Petty-Driven or Petty-Owned Car Has Visited Victory Lane in Every Decade Since Nascar was Founded
-10 Victories at Daytona International Speedway Including Seven Daytona 500 Wins (1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981)
-Awarded the Medal of Freedom by President George Bush in 2002, the First Motorsports Athlete Ever to be Honored with This Award
-On July 18, 1958, at the Ripe Age of 21, Competed in his First Grand National Event in Toronto, Canada
-Won NASCAR Rookie of the Year in 1959 at Age 22
-Last Race was the 1992 Hooter's 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Also the First Winston Cup race for Jeff Gordon
-Entered 1,185 Races Over 35 Seasons
-Won 200 Times
-Has 555 Top 5 Finishes
-Has 712 Top 10 Finishes
-Won 123 Pole Positions
-Has Led 51,695 Laps
-Has Raced 309,397.7 Miles
-Career Average Finish: 11th
For 35 years, Petty wheeled his familiar red and blue No. 43 car on the NASCAR Cup Series
Richard Petty barely beat Cale Yarborough for his 200th career victory.
After collecting that win, his STP Pontiac was put on permanent display in the Smithsonian