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Minter: No Richard, Thank You

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 25 2010

Richard Petty is certainly viewed as The King by the people who have written about NASCAR over the years. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

It’s always been a running joke among some members of the press that the people who do the pre-race prayers can mention nearly everyone at the race track – fans, drivers, crews officials, etc. – but they never seem to get around to the media.

It’s not a joke the way today’s media – especially the beleaguered print folks – often are treated badly by drivers who insult them in interview sessions and seem to go out of their way to get out of granting a meaningful interview.

But on Sunday, when the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomed in its first class of inductees, the press got a meaningful mention. It came from a fellow who never in his career abandoned the press, even as his role in the sport has changed and as demands on his time have increased.

It came from the King, Richard Petty.

“Without the press and the TV, we’d still be a Southern sport,” Petty said in his acceptance speech. “It took those people to sell us all over the country, to be able to bring in our big TV contracts and bring everything else in perspective.

“They were the ones then that went out and really told everybody about all of my races. They were the ones that brought the fans in.

“The fans then is what it’s all about, guys. We wouldn’t be here without the fans. There wouldn’t be a Richard Petty. There wouldn’t be a NASCAR. But the press was telling the fans about NASCAR. The fans came. The fans developed a love, a real love, for it.”

As Petty said those words, I thought about all the times he’s been there when I needed him for stories.

Some of the best interviews have come between two haulers in a pit area somewhere, just the two of us – me with my tape recorders, him with a fresh dip of tobacco, spitting occasionally as he offered his wisdom.

I thought back to a day back in 1992, during his farewell tour as a driver, when Atlanta Motor Speedway and local officials changed the name of the road by the race track to “Richard Petty Boulevard.”

My employer at the time failed to assign a reporter to the story, and late that afternoon, my phone rang with the assignment.

I went to Petty’s motorcoach in the infield well after suppertime and explained my dilemma to the man guarding the door.

He didn’t offer much encouragement, but said he’d run my last-minute interview request by the King.

About a minute later I was inside, sitting across the table from the King, asking my questions and getting my answers.

I also thought back to a night about 10 years after that when Adam Petty was running an ASA race at the half-mile oval in Jefferson, Ga.

I remember how odd it looked when the youngster rolled into the infield after an early-race wreck and Richard Petty himself rolled a jack under the right side of the car and pumped away on the handle.

After it was apparent that the car was too damaged to continue, I walked away.

In a few minutes I saw a familiar cowboy hat in the area where three or four sweaty young men were mounting race tires onto wheels, a job they’d been doing over and over all afternoon. I went over to see what was up, and Petty was thanking the young men for doing what is often a thankless job.

I told Richard I thought that was a nice gesture, and I went on to tell him how much I appreciated the help he’d been to me and my kind over the years.

“It goes both ways,” he said. “I’ve always appreciated ya’ll writing about me.”

It sure was nice to hear words like that again on Sunday.

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 25 2010
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Jon Bell says:

    Hey Rick. Just ran across this piece. Good work. Gives a good perspective on the workman-like attitude that got him to the top and why he remains an icon so long after his time in the spotlight.

  • James Kinnear says:

    There is only one King. He always seems to say the right things at the right times. He is simply the greatest nascar spokesman ever period. That is why is continues to have so many fans to this day.
    We all love what the man and what the Petty family heritage stands for. Honesty, Integrity and Grace.

  • Bill says:

    A true gentleman and a credit to the sport! They don’t make his kind anymore.