Thursday, March 31, 2011

Visit to Petty's Garage entry 1: The past

As mentioned in my previous entry, I had the great fortune of living a dream last week. For the first time as a 35+ year fan of Richard Petty, I walked the floors from stem to stern of Petty Enterprises. Today, the location is known as Petty's Garage. But for me as I walked, it was about racing history.

Make no mistake about it, this is the home of the King. His presence is noted everywhere. Even the forklifts are painted Petty blue!

I e-mailed the folks at Petty's Garage a couple of times before going just to make sure I could get a tour. Greg Steadman, a former Petty Enterprises crew chief and now general manager of Petty's Garage, was supposed to meet with me. (The red arrow is over Greg.) Because he was busy with work as a GM - and not as my personal shop tour guide - he didn't have time to meet with me, and I understood. Libby, the receptionist, was super though. She paged Doug Murph (underneath the blue arrow), and he spent the better part of two hours touring me through the shops.

The first place Doug took me was a long garage bay with several race cars and many of Richard's collected street cars from across the decades. As soon as we stepped through the door from the office to the garage, I was nose to nose with the 50th anniversary of Petty Racing Dodge driven by Bobby Labonte.

Another car that caught my eye right away was the tribute show car for Winston Cup Series champions. The cars were rolled out in 2003 as a nod to drivers who earned Winston Cup championships as R.J. Reynolds was leaving the sport at Nextel was arriving. Here is a photo of the King posing with his car then...

...and here it is in the Petty shops today...

Amongst the NASCAR cars and old-school Detroit sedans was this turbine Lotus from the 1968 Indianapolis 500. Joe Leonard won the pole in the STP car (that would naturally be the sponsor, right?), and he nearly won the race. I'm not certain if this is THE car or if its a replica. Either way, it was a cool sighting amongst its full-bodied brethren.

The original from 1968...

Source: http://forix.autosport.com/8w/penske-mercedes-pc23-equivalency.html

Doug then walked me into the heart of the action. I immediately recognized the well-lit shop from Petty photos shot in the latter years of Petty Enterprises. My head was spinning a bit. And I'm not sure how well I could smile with my jaw unhinged.

This 1964 Plymouth is being restored by Petty's Garage. Murph said while the car itself isn't a Petty-original, the engine is a legit hemi race engine from back in the day. The orange car behind it is a customer's 1969 street Dodge Daytona. Much of it is being restored with authentic Chrysler parts still on hand in the rafters and parts room of the facility.
Its a bit tough to tell in this photo, but apparently the 'swoops' in the upper corners of the valve covers was just one element that helped add horsepower to the hemi. The covers were so new that valve cover gaskets weren't yet available, and the team had to create their own.

I was told Chrysler didn't deliver the hemi engines for the 1964 Daytona 500 until about a week before Speedweeks was to begin. Maurice Petty did most of the tuning on the engines in the garage area at the track. Once at the track, Richard made several practice laps and returned to the garage to find water leaking from the head. He spot welded what he believed to be the source of the leak, and he went on to win the first of his record seven Daytona 500 wins. When the engine was disassembled back in Level Cross after Speedweeks, apparently the inside of it was a mess. Richard told Doug it may not have lasted many more laps had they been needed.

After we left the main room, Doug took me through one door to yet another. As I'd heard before going, floor levels often didn't match. You could easily tell where one building had ended and another begun. When Chrysler started scaling back the support of teams in the early 1970s, a lot of parts and equipment from Ray Nichels' Dodge operation was moved to Petty Enterprises. Doug showed me the 'Nichels room' with all sorts of stuff that hasn't been touched much in almost 40 years.

He then walked me into a room full of still-mounted tires. I saw several v-tread pattered 'rain' tires from when NASCAR brainstormed running Cup cars in the rain if necessary at road courses. Several rims had Goodyear Eagles with yellow lettering indicating the tires were new - at least relatively speaking and compared to others I saw. This wheel caught my eye though - a Petty blue (not dark blue as used from the early through mid 70s) wheel with a Goodyear tire - not an Eagle brand. I'm guessing this might have been from 1967 through 1970 era.

He pointed out D-ring anchor points installed in the cement floor. I'm not enough of a car guy to know exactly their purpose - perhaps for frame straightening of a wrecked car? As I pondered that, he said "check this out" as he pointed to a brick wall with peeling paint that separated us from another room. He then told me it was the outer wall of the original Lee Petty race shop "reaper shed". And with that... I was at ground zero. Late 1940s. 35 year-old Lee Petty about to start a new career with two kids and a nephew helping him as he 'crew'. The place was a bit dark and certainly musty, but it was a bit surreal being the long-time fan I am. As the shop added larger and more modern additions, the original building became a crew uniform storage and laundry drop-off room.

He also walked me through Maurice Petty's engine dyno room - the place where engines were built by 'Chief' for 190+ of Richard's wins, Kyle's ARCA win in 1979, Woody Fisher's 1977 ARCA win, Joe Millikan's late model sportsman wins in 1976 and 1978, and wins by other drivers such as Pete Hamilton, Jim Paschal, Paul Lewis, Buddy Baker, Marvin Panch, etc. A couple of newspaper clippings were still taped to the window frame through which Chief would watch his creations come to life. The clippings were faded from the original black and white newsprint to a curled, yellowish sepia.


One building he told me about - but we didn't visit - apparently includes a boo-coodle of old race cars racked one above another several layers high. Later, I could see a few of them as I got ready to leave. Many looked like Pontiacs and Dodges - perhaps from more recent times when raced by such drivers as John Andretti, Bobby Hamilton, Jeff Green, etc.

We walked back to where we started, and Doug said he needed to get back to work. Yet, I spent about another 20-30 minutes telling me a few more stories. One of them involved the late Bobby Hamilton, Sr. At Talladega (I think that's what he told me), Murph was massaging the right rear fender - fixing something, tweaking aero, whatever. He had to peel off the STP OIL TREATMENT sponsor lettering from the rear quarter panel and planned to re-do it. He worked from either end peeling off the letters and was down to the center section of EATME. Hamilton happened by, saw it, busted out laughing and said to put it back together so he could make some laps. Apparently crew chief Robbie Loomis came by, saw what was about to happen, went white and told Murph no way was that going to happen. It would have been hilarious if they could have pulled it off, but the King probably would have fired 'em all if they had. It was almost an Animal House float moment.

Also as a joke, Doug said they used some leftover decals to put the word "IN" on the drivers side window of the replica build of the Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 in which Richard won his sixth Daytona 500 in 1979. When representatives from Franklin Mint contracted to design and sell a 1/24 scale model of the car, they sent photographers to Level Cross to shoot pictures...tons of them. The Mint's release to the public was meticulously detailed - including by mistake the "IN" on the door.

Here is the car from the Richard Petty Museum...

... and here is a picture of the Franklin Mint scale model I grabbed from an ebay ad.

Another photo of the full car at the museum ... including the "IN"...

... and the diecast version...

I will follow up this entry about Petty Enterprises: The Past with one about Petty's Garage: The Present.

TMC

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nothing petty about a Schaefer victory

As a 30+ year Petty fan, I had the thrill of a lifetime this week. Tuesday, I got to visit Petty's Garage in Level Cross, NC - formerly the Petty Enterprises shops. Friday, I visited the Richard Petty Museum in Randleman. Both were firsts for me. I took a ton of pictures and got some great stories. Eventually, I'll get my notes together, all my photos uploaded and blog entries composed. But this part couldn't wait.

In July 1970, Richard won the Schaefer 300 at Trenton, NJ. (Last summer, I blogged more info about the race.) The only picture I'd ever seen of the winner's trophy from that race was this grainy B&W from the newspaper.

As I noted in last summer's blog entry, the above picture was shared with me by Brian "200WINZ" Hauck. Brian went to the race as a youngster and got some neat shots of the Petty car. He did not, however, get a good look at the trophy. We've had a good-natured competition to see who might be able to find the trophy first. He has been to Level Cross many times and will likely return many times more. I'd never been in the Randleman museum and had little shot at getting to the trophy.

But then a window of opportunity opened. A few months ago, I was booked to speak at a 2-day, work-related training session in Greensboro, NC. As the timing of last week's conference grew closer, I realized I had a shot of going to the Petty places while in Greensboro.

Uncle D, our fellow Schaefer Hall of Famer from Cleveland, went to the museum last summer. He looked for the trophy (nearly upstaging Hauck and me), couldn't find it and swore up and down it wasn't there. But once I knew I'd have the shot of going to Level Cross, I contacted the museum to see if they had the trophy on display. One of the museum's employees told me they had it. I took her at her word, ignored Uncle D's assurances and hoped for the best.

When I arrived Friday, I reminded her of our conversation. She remembered me and asked if I wanted to see the trophy first before looking at everything else. I responded ABSOLUTELY.

And there it was...


She went back to the counter but then hollered back at me "What was the name of that race again?", and I said Schaefer 300. She came back with "Like the beer? I drank that in college!"


Trenton awarded matching trophies - one to the winning driver and another to the winning owner. Of course, in Petty's case, the team took home both pieces of hardware. Here's the matching trophy although the race name plate had fallen off it.


I spent next 3 hours wandering around snapping pics of everything else (more blog entries to follow). An hour or so into my tour, I asked her if she'd take my picture standing next to the case that had the Schaefer 300 trophy. She said yes but that she'd really like to get the trophy out for me. Because someone had "misplaced" her drill, however, she didn't really have any way to get to it. I swallowed hard and said um...uh...now that would be beyond cool if we could make it happen.

I continued looking around until I'd seen the lion's share of what I wanted to view. She again said she wished she could help me get to it but didn't have a drill. I asked if there was a Home Depot nearby because I'd go buy her a ratchet set with screw tips if that would help. She laughed and said "let me call someone".

After placing a call, she said a guy from Petty's Garage up the road would be there in about 15 minutes. My heart was pumping pretty good, but after 30 minutes he still wasn't there. I had a flight to catch back home and couldn't stick around all day. She again offered to take my photo by the trophy case which still was a pretty neat deal - and more than I expected as I entered the place.

As we walked to the case, she said she normally didn't go through all this with most visitors. But she said my request was just...um...I don't know...sorta... So I helped her with "unique"? Yeah, that was it, unique! I hadn't asked to see a Daytona or a Cup trophy. This one was just different to her and made it fun.

She apologized for his not being there, but what could I say? I told her I really appreciated the effort, that I'd wait another 5-7 minutes, and then I HAD to head out for the 90 minute drive to Raleigh.

I gave him 10 minutes, sighed and was headed for the door when I heard her say "he's here!" We shook hands, and the three of us headed to the trophy case. I told him the condensed version of our Schaefer story, he had a good laugh and he went to work. She and I held the plexiglass as he removed all the screws.


She took out the trophy and realized it was a bit rickety because some of the column bolts were loose. She said she'd feel better if she sat it near me vs. giving it to me. Fine by me!




Then he said something to the effect of "well if he came this damn far to see the thing, he ought to hold it over his head" to which I replied "now you're talking!"

She was hesitant at first but then said "I'm glad I drink beer to make this fun. But just be careful." I assured her I hadn't followed the King this long or come this far to wreck one of his trophies.

As she readied my camera, I made sure I had good hold of it. Before she snapped, she said "Oh, its just not right unless you have your beer can in the shot." So she's the one who sat it on the trophy at the last second.

So here it is...


So while Brian got to see the race about 40 years ago, I believe I am the one to enjoy the spoils of victory.

I gently returned the trophy to the case and helped reattach the plexiglass. After multiple "thank yous", I all but floated back to the airport for the trip home.

Richard Petty earned thousands of fans during his career - primarily because of the great way he treated those fans. The same can be said for employees hired by the organizations sporting his name.

TMC

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Patchwork Entry

While scanning several of my old decals for my recent mini-series of blog entries, I found an envelope of racing-related patches. From around age 12 or so through today, I've worn denim jackets. I love 'em. As a kid, I outgrew them quickly in sleeve length. As an adult, I still run the risk of outgrowing them - but in different ways!

When I was a teen, my dear mother sewed many of the patches to the back of my jacket. I remember working with her on the optimal layout. It was like a jigsaw puzzle trying to maximize the efficient use of denim real estate. I'm guessing my begging went something like this:
OK, Petty Enterprises goes in the center.
STP - ok, let's put that one up top by my collar.
Goodyear, Union 76 - yeah, those will be fine near the bottom.
Hey look what I bought at Daytona - a new patch! Can you sew it tonight?
Then she'd spend probably countless hours sewing them to my specifications. A year or so later, a new jacket equaled a son's new request. Can you sew them to the new one please? It was situations like that one where I learned the true benefit of proper manners.

Once I got into high school, I kept wearing jean jackets. But I no longer sported patches on them. What I don't recall is whether I thought the coolness factor had waned - or if my mother finally said no mas.

But I kept all the ones once adorning my back as well as a few others that were never sewn. Here are some of them.

The sanctioning body and series:

A logo from the early days.
You can see the logo displayed as a front-fender decal in this old Lee Petty photo.

The entry of R.J. Reynolds - a defining moment in the history of NASCAR. Easily included in the top 3 major events that have shaped NASCAR racing.
The basics: tires, fuel, shocks, plugs, and safety equipment (before Simpson came along, many drivers chose Bell for their firesuits and helmets)

The track:

I specifically remember buying this one at a convenience store in February 1980 following my first Daytona 500. I bought a t-shirt with the same logo, and I wanted to find a patch for my jacket. Two of my uncles who took me to the race tired of my search for the perfect patch. When we stopped on the way back to Jacksonville for a break (and likely to re-load on beer for them), I spotted the patch on a peghook. I don't know the cell phone numbers of my family members, but I remember trivial crap like this. Go figure.

Petty related:

This patch of the original Petty Enterprises logo was an iron-on type patch vs. an embroidered one. But my mother tacked it with thread anyway, and the thing held up wonderfully for a few of those teen years.

Denim on denim baby!

As I recall, I ordered this 43 patch from the NMPA Joe Weatherly Museum at Darlington Speedway based on a description in a brochure they sent me. I was pretty disappointed when I got it that the stitching was a generic 43 vs. the sho-nuff Petty font.But as is noticeable from the dirt and smoke stains, I reckon I got over it.

Richard's sponsorship by STP just seemed...different. So many drivers - then and now - seem forced with plugs for their sponsors. The sponsorship dollars are a must-do to compete, but most are better at driving than pitching product (Michael Waltrip being the notable exception). With the King, however, STP just seemed natural on his car, uniform, hauler, caps, sunglasses, etc. For those who grew up following Richard's early years, the move from an all-Petty blue Plymouth to one with STP's day-glo red likely seemed unforgivable. But for me, it was a natural fit.

MoPar related - I had to have these back in the day with Petty Enterprises fielding Plymouths and Dodges.

Other unique ones:

Truxmore was a long-time sponsor of Junie Donlavey's #90 Ford teams raced by drivers such as Charlie Glotzbach, Dick Brooks, Ricky Rudd and Jody Ridley. I think they made garbage trucks of all things.

Many of you read SceneDaily.com. You may follow @jeff_gluck or @stevewaid on Twitter. Perhaps you've read Rick Houston's articles at NASCAR.com or at his own Stock Car History Online. Steve, Rick and Jeff all once worked for the Scene. What is now a web-based NASCAR news source was once a bi-weekly, paper subscription. It started as Grand National Scene...which was updated to Winston Cup Scene...then made more generic but expanded in coverage to NASCAR Scene...and then to Scene Daily as the paper went away and the web presence expanded.

All of the patches shown above were collected as a kid. I can't believe I've actually managed to hold onto them all these years. But last summer, I found four more patches for my collection. These weren't given to me. I earned them, and I bought them. I present to you the Too Much Country Merit Badge Collection...

The blogging merit badge
The Twitter merit badge for my @toomuchcountry tweets...

Thirty-five years of being a fan helped me earn the NASCAR merit badge...

And of course, the most appropriate one, the Beer Drinker merit badge. Now if I just get someone to design me one with the Schaefer logo...

A beer drinker patch? Say, that reminds me. It goes together like peas and carrots with this Schaefer Circle of Sports patch. I have to admit I found this image on ebay and don't actually have the patch itself.

How about it? Did you collect and save racing related patches? Let me know, and provide a photo or a link. Perhaps I can collect enough to have another entry on reader-submitted patches.

TMC