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The King Says Others Were More Royal Than He

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 20 2010

Richard Petty is a bit reluctant about being enshrined in the Hall of Fame. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

One of five NASCAR legends set to be inducted into the sport’s inaugural Hall of Fame class on Sunday, Richard Petty contends there are other stock car racing pioneers who should have been voted in ahead of him.

“I feel like there were people more important in getting NASCAR started than Richard Petty,” said Petty, who owns a record 200 victories and seven championships in NASCAR’s Cup Series.

“I’m a big believer in (his father) Lee Petty from the standpoint that he ran the very first race and was the first professional driver that said ‘OK, I can make a living driving.’ He was the first driver that said ‘I can make a living owning the car. I can make a living working on the car.’

“People like that laid the groundwork for everything going on now.”

Petty, who will enter NASCAR’s hall this weekend alongside Junior Johnson and the late Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr. and Dale Earnhardt, was candid and humble about variety of topics while chatting with reporters last weekend at Dover International Speedway.

When NASCAR’s Ramsey Poston revealed on Saturday that Petty received and accepted an invitation from NASCAR CEO Brian France to cast a ballot for next year’s inductees, the Randleman, N.C. native didn’t shy away from revealing how he’ll vote (though some of the names likely won’t appear on the ballot).

“Lee Petty, David Pearson, Maurice Petty, who built 280 something winning engines and Dale Inman, who won eight championships as a crew chief,” Petty said. “Those two people (Maurice Petty and Dale Inman) don’t even have a second-place behind them. That’s how far ahead they are. But we’re not going to get them all in.

“Then you’ve got to look at the Allisons and (Cale) Yarborough if you’re looking at the drivers. I’d put in two or three drivers a year and then go back to the people that helped the drivers get here.”

Petty is still surprised that Pearson, his longtime rival, isn’t part of the inaugural class.

“If I was voting (on the first class), I would have said ‘let’s get six,’” Petty said. “But I would think (Pearson) would be the first one to be put in next year because I think he was the first one left out this year.”

Wearing his trademark sunglasses and cowboy hat with feathers, Petty made it clear that he wants to see a wide-variety of selections appear on next year’s ballot.

“Naturally, they picked the two Frances this year because they’re the ones that got it started,” said Petty, who will be introduced on Sunday by his son, Kyle Petty. “But hopefully in the future they’ll come back and look at people beside drivers.

“They’ll look at the people that made the drivers go or made the sacrifice for the driver. Hopefully, we’ll have car owners or tracks owners or promoters or mechanics, so there’s a cross-section of it.

“No driver stands alone. It’s a team effort. So you put Richard Petty in the Hall of Fame. Richard Petty just happened to be the one out front. He had all of those people behind him pushing him and making it go by giving him the equipment to go do the job with.”

Among Petty’s contributions to the sport, there may have been none greater than his dramatic victory in the 1979 Daytona 500, which ended with Bobby and Donnie Allison brawling with Yarborough near the end of the backstretch.

“That’s when they had a little fight on the backstretch and we lucked up and won the race,” Petty said, while flashing his famous smile.

“But there was a bunch of groundwork laid before that. Daytona kept getting a little bit bigger each year.

“To the general public and most of the nation, (the 1979 Daytona 500) was a big, big, big step. I think all of a sudden we had a captive audience.

“It wound up be an exciting race. It just let the rest of the world know we had an exciting sport going on.”

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

Jeff Hood | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 20 2010
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