Daytrippin’—Richard Petty Museum
I have to admit, I’m not much of a NASCAR fan. It’s just not a sport I watch on a regular basis. But I have lived in the South all my life and have a fondness for all things truly Southern, including NASCAR and its interesting roots here in North Carolina. And after my first trip to the Richard Petty museum, a large building packed full of race cars, memorabilia and interesting personal collections, I left feeling very proud of the impact our local heroes have had on racing and North Carolina itself.
A Family History
If there’s one thing you learn from a trip to the Richard Petty Museum, it’s that the Petty Racing team is much more than just Richard. It all started with Lee Petty, Richard’s father, who began competing in the Winston Cup NASCAR races in 1949. Among many other accomplishments, he won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. That was the same year that Richard won Grand National Rookie of the year, and his wins started piling up after that. He earned his nickname “The King” in 1967 when he won a record 27 races.
Apparently the racing gene was passed on when Kyle started racing alongside his father in 1979, eventually becoming the first third-generation driver to win in NASCAR. Then in 1997, Kyle’s son Adam made his debut with his late-model stock car. The family was set to dominate the track for yet another generation when tragedy struck. Adam hit the wall in a practice session in 2000 and passed away, the same year the family lost Lee. But Petty racing still lives on, with Kyle Petty and two other drivers handling the legendary 43 car as well as the newer 44 and 45.
There’s much more to this family’s history in racing, and you can read it all in an attractive timeline hung along one whole wall as you enter the museum. Whether you’re interested in which model car they were racing at a specific time or how the sponsorships changed, it’s all there.
One of the most striking things about the museum is the racecars. Richard Petty made the 43 car famous, including its trademark “Petty blue” color, and that is the first thing you see when you walk through the doors. Along the far wall is a line-up of cars including different years and the metamorphosis into the new sponsorships. Of course, the car that won all those races in 1967 is set off from the others in its own special place.
The “real” cars are totally off-limits to curious kids. Luckily, there is a bumper car replica of the 43 car that’s out and ready for anybody to jump in and pretend to race!
Cars are not the only collection housed in this museum. There are glass cases filled with trophies of every style and size. In addition, there are some of the more “creative” prizes — such as a full-sized jukebox —reminiscent of the days when NASCAR wasn’t quite the big-money sport it is today, and the tracks found other ways to attract top drivers.
The museum also has on display many of Richard’s private collections. Two glass cases are filled with belt buckles, the big round kind that were a trademark of Petty’s civilian outfits almost as much as his black cowboy hat. The back room also contains the doll collection of Richard’s wife Lynda, something I had to pull my 2-year-old Caroline away from kicking and screaming.
A Man with Heart
Richard Petty’s charisma helped change the image of NASCAR, and many say he helped bring it from the dirt tracks to the multi-million dollar speedways of today. But it was more than just winning races that made Petty a household name. He cares about people and was extremely loyal to his fans, staying at the track to sign autographs long after other drivers had gone.
The King still connects with kids today, most recently in a cameo appearance in Disney/Pixar’s “Cars.” The main character, Lightning McQueen, is up against racing’s two toughest competitors, a green car named Chick Hicks and a “Petty blue” car sporting the number 43, named The King and voiced by Richard Petty himself.
Petty also plays an integral role in the Victory Junction Gang camp founded by Kyle for children with life-threatening illnesses. (See the article in this issue.)
Visit the museum, and you’ll feel like you’ve gotten to know this N.C. racing legend a little more personally. PP
Do you have any tips to share with other readers looking to visit the Richard Petty museum or interesting anecdotes about your own little race fans? Visit www.piedmontparent.com and click on the “Share your Richard Petty memories” button on the homepage.
Richard Petty Museum
142 W. Academy Street
Randleman, NC 27317
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: Adults $5, Students $3, kids 6 and under free.