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.
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.