Saturday, April 23, 2011

Visit to Richard Petty Museum: The other stuff

Where was I? Oh yeah! After composing a couple of entries about the trophies I found in the Richard Petty Museum, I wanted to wrap-up the series with some thoughts and photos of other 'stuff' I saw.

I just knew this was going to be a magical trip as I pulled into the parking lot. As I got out of my rental car, I realized for the first time I had been driving a Chrysler 200. Chrysler: owner of Plymouth and Dodge brands raced by Petty Enterprises for so many years. 200: Richard's total number of Cup wins. Ah yes, this was indeed a great trip.

The museum is packed with all sorts of stuff collected by Richard and Lynda Petty. Guns, rifles, watches, dolls, belt buckles, knives, matchbox cars, etc. Most of it didn't interest me simply because I'm only a fan of the racing portion.

The museum didn't have as many cars as I had expected. The replicas of Lee's 1959 Oldsmobile and Richard's 1967 Plymouth have been moved to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte. So I know why those weren't there. None of Adam's cars were on display - nor was the Ford Richard raced in 1969 that I recall seeing at the old museum in 1997.

A Pontiac Grand Prix from 1984 and a 1970 Plymouth Superbird were on display. Both are beautiful race cars. Both, however, are replica restorations. Neither represent true Petty cars

I never tire of looking at a Petty car. When cars are displayed in a museum, however, I wish better signage could be displayed. I think visitors would enjoy knowing (1) the cars are replicas and (2) the historical racing significance why the car is on display - key wins, championship years, bad wrecks, number built by Petty Enterprises, etc.

It was easier viewing the cars in the new museum vs. how I remember them almost 15 years ago. However, I hope some day there will be an even larger area to view them with a better angle to take pictures. Being right up on top of the cars and trying to work with vinyl, white picket fencing in the foreground makes it tough to capture the length of a car in one shot. For instance, here is Richard's 1981 Buick Regal. He raced one similar to this one to his seventh Daytona 500 win. Yet, it was tough getting a great shot because of the fencing barrier.

Also, the Chevy Monte Carlo from 1979-80 is among the best looking cars Richard ever raced. His seventh Cup championship was won driving a Monte in the majority of the events.

The rear quarter-panel of this car, however, never had this many random contingency decals. In what is becoming a drum-beat theme now, I really wish more careful attention could be paid to these types of details. I'm guessing most visitors won't notice the variance. But as someone who tries to have an idea for detail on stuff like this, I wish that extra bit of effort could be made to display the car as closely as possible to the look when it raced.

As displayed...

A look at the rear quarter during a win at Dover in 1979...

A neat trophy I found was for Richard's pole-winning efforts in the 1978 NAPA 250 Winston West race at Phoenix. Petty had gone through a 1-1/2 year losing streak and was facing stomach ulcer surgery in the off-season. But when the Cup season ended at Ontario, a few drivers such as Richard and Kyle, Bobby Allison, and Neil Bonnet stuck around and raced a week later in this Winston West race. (For newer fans, the scenario is analogous to Kyle Busch dropping back to race in the truck or Nationwide series on a Cup weekend.)

What I found interesting about this trophy though was the spelling. I guess I've always thought the fastest qualifier was the pole sitter vs. the pole setter. Any grammar experts out there? Snicker...snort...haha...grammar experts reading a NASCAR blog. Riiiiiggghhhttt.

A tradition throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s was to have all drivers autograph one or more checkered flags. The signed flags were given to various folks - winning drivers, grand marshals, etc. Even President Reagan received one at the 1984 Firecracker 400.


Two such flags were on display at the museum. One from that '84 Firecracker 400 where the King notched his 200th win...

...and the other was from Richard's final race at Daytona - the 1992 Pepsi 400.

Maxwell House coffee is "good to the last drop" because they say it is. Years ago, a commercial claimed "when E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen". So when the Petty museum says this is the first souvenir t-shirt, then hey I reckon I've got to believe them. Right? I actually have no earthly idea if its the first one or not, but it makes for a great claim anyway.

I maintain a spreadsheet of as much daily Petty trivia as I've been able to find. I post it from time to time on various message boards and have occasionally blogged some of it here. I'm also trying to collect as many photos and articles as I can for each of Richard's 200 wins. I found this picture from Richard's first career win in Charlotte, NC. I didn't have it...but I do now.

Another neat photo I spotted was of driver Bill Lutz. I consider myself pretty well versed in the names of drivers who drove for Petty Enterprises over the years. But Lutz' came came as a surprise. In researching his stats, I learned he raced 26 times in the old NASCAR convertible series. Four of his last five starts were in Petty Engineering's #88 Oldsmobile in 1957. He also raced a Petty Oldsmobile in the NASCAR Grand National Daytona Beach and Road course race in February 1957. His car number? 43. Now, that's a picture I'd like to find.

Lee Petty was never particularly known for being media-accessible like his son. He could be rough and gruff - to the media, his sons and fans. But this photo I found on a wall of him and his wife Elizabeth shows a different side.

In May 1975, Richard's brother-in-law, Randy Owens, was killed during a pit stop during the Winston 500 at Talladega. I vaguely remember reading about it in the next morning's newspaper. In recent years, I saw some grainy video footage during an episode of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s show, Back in the Day. But I've never known a whole lot about Randy - including what he looked like. The museum had a nice tribute wall to memorialize many folks tied to the Petty organization who are deceased. Among the pictures was this one of Randy. It may be one of the worst Photoshop jobs I've ever seen - but I think someone's heart was in the right place to remember him.

Another neat piece of trivia was a case for Richard's 200th win. Included in it was his helmet, driver's uniform and race's checkered flag autographed by long-time NASCAR flagman Harold Kinder.

I've seen the following photo more than once. Its a victory lane from Richard's first Daytona 500 win in 1964. What I have never understood, however, is the presence of the Japanese woman in victory lane with him. She was hardly the typical trophy queen.

In visiting the museum, however, I got my answer. It looks like the nation of Japan may have provided a winner's trophy. Who knew! I'm still not exactly sure why they did it. So in this case, an answer to one question leads to ... another question.

To wrap this up, this may have been the craziest trophy I saw. How Petty managed to win the pole for the Nashville TN race at ... Greenville-Pickens speedway in South Carolina is beyond me. Clearly someone got too dizzy drinking Falstaff as the plaques were glued to this one.

I left the museum to head for my flight in Raleigh. Along the way, I glanced at the odometer and grabbed my Blackberry to snap a picture. As predicted at the beginning of my visit, I knew it was going to be a magical trip. This odometer cemented that prediction.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Richard Petty Museum visit: the trophies part 2

Having about three to four hours and a butt-load of trophies to view was a bit of a sensory overload when it came to taking pictures. As noted in my previous entry, I chose to hone in on trophies from lost tracks and on wins for which I had some other memory connection.

As I started wrapping up my last entry, I strayed off topic a bit. I wanted to focus on lost tracks in that one and save current tracks for this one. But I threw in Darlington and Pocono. Oh well, sue me.

But in an effort to make up a bit for that blogging blunder, how about I let a lost track invade this current track blog. Fair and balanced, right?

North Wilkesboro - Richard won five races and the championship in 1979. The 1980 season look promising. He won two short-track races early in the season: Nashville and the Northwestern Bank 400 at North Wilkesboro. Unfortunately, he had a terrible wreck at Pocono mid-year which derailed his chances for an 8th title.

A couple of observations about the victory lane photo above:
  • Richard's daughter, Rebecca, now heads up the Petty Family Foundation.
  • I had the same t-shirt she is wearing, and a photo of my sporting it was even included in my high school annual!
Winston Cup trophies - Richard won seven NASCAR Grand National / Winston Cup championships. I found the 1971, 1974 and 1979 Winston Cup trophies. I did not spot the 1964, , 1967, 1972 or 1975 championship trophies - though its possible they were there and overlooked by me.

Richard earned his fourth championship in 1971 - but it was his first (and the first overall) labeled as the Winston Cup Series Champion.

Richard's fifth Cup trophy from 1974.

And Richard's seventh and final Cup trophy from 1979.

The 1979 championship win by Petty was truly remarkable. Richard went winless from mid-1977 through the end of 1978. STP had begun to doubt him, and sponsorship re-negotiations began. Because it was unresolved, the 43 car ran minimal STP decals and colors the first three races of 1979. Petty had stomach ulcer surgery after the 1978 season concluded, and his doctors recommended he not start the 1979 season. He ignored his doctors' advice, started the season and even won the Daytona 500 for the sixth time as Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough crashed on the last lap. Also, Darrell Waltrip had come into his own, won seven races, and jelled with his DiGard team to grab the championship. But a funny thing happened on the way to the final race at Ontario. DiGard and DW stumbled down the stretch, and the steady-as-you-go, experienced Petty team rose to the occasion. When the checkers flew, it was the King who locked up his 7th title.

Martinsville - A key win for Richard in 1979 was the spring Virginia 500. Darrell Waltrip was on a bit of a roll. But in a rare display of humility, he even conceded before the race began that the 43 was likely the car to beat. And it was as Richard won and DW finished 3rd.

Atlanta - As a driver, Petty had plenty of success with wins at Atlanta. Interestingly, I don't think I saw any trophies from his multiple wins there. However, I did find this one - the provisional pole winner for The Atlanta Invitational in 1986. The race was the preliminary event to The Winston and was open to non-winning drivers who weren't eligible for the main event. For those newer to NASCAR, 1986 was the second year of The Winston and the only year it hasn't been raced in Charlotte.

I really enjoyed seeing the trophies from the wins in the 1960s and early 1970s - way before my time as a fan. But it was also cool seeing the trophy from the most recent win involving Richard Petty. Here is the big iron from Kasey Kahne's win in the 2009 Pep Boys 500 driving for Richard Petty Motorsports.


- Sticking with the current events theme, the museum also had the unique trophy from Kahne's win at Sonoma in June 2009. It was Petty's first win as a car owner since 1999 when John Andretti won at Martinsville.

Charlotte - Over the years, some questioned why Petty didn't win many races at Darlington. However, he did run well consistently and tallied three wins. If any criticism could be leveled about his performance on a track, perhaps it should have been Charlotte instead. Jim Paschal, Marvin Panch and Buddy Baker - drivers who raced for Petty Enterprises - won at Charlotte in Petty cars. However, Richard himself couldn't close the sale individually until the 1975 World 600. He then won again in the fall race to sweep the year. In 1977, he once again won the 600.

Interestingly, actress Elizabeth Taylor, who recently died, attended the race with her then-husband Sen. John Warner of Virginia. One or both of them was the race's grand marshal, and they joined the King in victory lane.

Hardware for Kyle's career was in short supply at the museum. Likely, it was for one of three reasons.
  • One, its the RICHARD PETTY museum - not necessarily the Lee, Maurice, Kyle or Adam Petty Museum.
  • Two, a lot of Kyle's trophies were stored at his beach home near Charleston SC. Sadly, a fire consumed the house several years ago and much of its contents.
  • Three, let's face it - Kyle didn't exactly need an expanded museum to display his winnings. With only eight career wins and a few poles, he didn't have a lot to display even if it was still available. I'm a fan of all-things Petty - including Kyle's career. But that's just the honest truth.
Richmond - One of Kyle's trophies I did find at the museum was from his first Cup win in the 1986 Miller 400 at Richmond. Earnhardt wiped out DW, and the third and fourth place cars managed to get caught up in the melee too. Kyle came from 5th to 1st in the final two turns of the last lap on what was then Richmond's half-mile track.

Update 2011-04-06: As a reader rightfully pointed out to me, the Earnhardt/DW wreck and Kyle's pass for the win was NOT on the last lap. It all took place with three laps to go. Back then, races could finish under caution. So all Kyle had to do was ride around the final couple of laps to seal the win. Thanks Cam for the correction.

- The Petty family and Daytona are linked closely together. Petty Enterprises has enjoyed unbelievable success at the track since its opening in 1959. I found a couple of items that merited a picture.

Here is another trophy collected by Kyle for his winning the pole for the 1993 Daytona 500 - the first without Richard Petty in it since 1961.

Richard won the 1964 Daytona 500, and he added additional wins in the 500 in the late 60s and early 70s. However, he could never quite win the summer Firecracker 400. Finally, he won it in 1975 and did so again in 1977.

I definitely wanted a shot of this trophy. As soon as I spotted it, I laughed a bit knowing I had this victory lane photo from the race at home.

Trophies are only part of the items on display at the museum. I'll post some of the rest of what I thought in the entries to follow.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Richard Petty Museum visit: the trophies part 1

Cleveland, Ohio is supposedly where the phrase "rock and roll" was joined. As a result, the city got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go figure. Cooperstown, NY = Baseball. No ball of any significance is played there, but its a desired destination of the men who play a kid's game. Canton, OH. Springfield, MA. Established football and basketball Halls of Fame are in these cities

For NASCAR, many cities pitched, proposed, lobbied and cajoled fans, media, politicians and other powers that their city represented the roots of racing and was deserving of the Hall of Fame that eventually was built in Charlotte.

For me though, the epicenter of NASCAR is in Level Cross, NC. Petty Enterprises. I understand about the liquor runners of Atlanta, Wilkes County NC, and Virginia. I get the legend of Big Bill and the hard-packed sands of central Florida beaches. But in looking through Petty-blue tinted glasses, the little town 20 miles south of Greensboro, NC is where I consider the cross-hairs of racing's history to be.

In 1997, my co-founder of the Schaefer Racing Hall of Fame lived in High Point, NC. Before going to the Coca-Cola 600, we took a short trip to Level Cross. I got to see the shops from the outside, and we visited the cramped museum-of-that-day that was shoehorned into one of the PE buildings.

In recent years, the King remodeled an old furniture store 15 minutes down Highway 200 in Randleman. There he opened the Richard Petty Museum, and I got to visit it for the first time a week ago.

I have no information about the business in the building before it became the museum. But somehow I think its more than just a coincidence the street number of the museum is 142. Considering the respect Richard had for his dad, Lee, and the use of #42 by Lee for substantially all of his career, I think this is a nice tribute to the patriarch - coincidental or not.

I've already blogged about my number one target for my visit - the 1970 Schaefer 300 trophy. However, I wanted to observe as much as I could in the few hours I had to visit. It didn't take me long to pick up on a couple of things:
  • The trophies on display aren't even close to what the Pettys accumulated over the years.
  • Many of Lee's trophies were there, but one I did not see (may have missed it) was his trophy for the inaugural 1959 Daytona 500.
  • Only a few items from Kyle's career were on display. Many newer fans may not realize Kyle once had a beach house near Charleston SC. The house burned one night while he and his family were away, and all was lost - including many of Kyle's career trophies on display or stored at his home.
  • Many expected trophies from Richard's career weren't there. He won scads of races at Nashville, Martinsville, Richmond, North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, Columbia SC, etc. Yet very few trophies from these tracks were spotted in the display cases.
  • The trophies are not displayed in any particular order - year, track, race win vs. pole win, etc. As someone who often deals better with a logical sequence, it was a bit frustrating not to be able to hone in on a given race. But I quickly adapted to just looking at all of it and finding multiple decades of accomplishments sharing the same display cabinet.
  • Several trophies had engraved plaques on them with the race, year, track, etc. A place was reserved to have the winner's name engraved later. However, many of them had never been engraved such as this one I spotted from the King's win in the 1967 Northern 300 in Trenton, NJ. Who knows if it was the track's or the driver's responsibility. Either way, most of the trophies on display seem to be just as they were awarded to the King.
Taking photos was a challenge. Plexiglas covering the display cases created a pretty bad glare. Also, the cases included a ton of hardware won by the Petty teams making it a challenge to read the plaques - much less angle my camera to capture it and not get a bad glare. What I chose to do in large part was snap pictures of trophies in a couple of different ways: from some of the obscure/lost NASCAR tracks and some from races where another type of memory jogged in my mind as I looked at the trophy.

The Tennessee tracks - This blog is titled Bench Racing from the Volunteer State. It only made sense to photograph a lot of the loot from our state's tracks - especially because Bristol is the only one that remains a part of the NASCAR schedule.

Nashville - I spotted this one from the 1980 Music City 420. My first Grand National race was the 1978 Music City 420. Cale Yarborough won the race by leading every lap, and the 43 finished 3rd. In 1979, our family may have gone to qualifying (can't remember), but I know we didn't go the race. By 1980, I had the itch to go again - especially because I'd been to my first Daytona 500 earlier in the season. As it turns out, a high school band trip to Orlando FL overlapped the 1980 Nashville race. My dad and two uncles went anyway. Lo and behold, guess who won. Though I had a ball on my band trip, I was crushed I missed the King winning in my hometown.

Kingsport - part of the Tri-Cities of East Tennessee - near where the Bristol track remains today. Kingsport hosted three Grand National races from 1969 - 1971. Richard won the 1969 and 1970 races, and he won the pole for the 1970 event. This is the trophy for his 1970 pole win. As mentioned earlier, note how the pole winner's name and speed were never engraved. Also, today's pole winners are recognized by Coors Light. Previously, Budweiser and Busch sponsored the pole awards. But how about back in the day with Falstaff paying for the honors!

Maryville - This half-mile dirt track near Knoxville hosted 12 Grand National races. Richard entered 10 of them, and he won 6 of the races he entered - including the final GN race there in 1971. My uncle who introduced me to racing in 1974 and told me I had to pull for Ol' Blue if I expected him to take me to races met the King at both Kingsport and Maryville.

Chattanooga - Boyd's Speedway is still around today as a local bullring. It hosted two Grand National races - one each in 1962 and 1964. The King won the pole for both races, but he didn't win either of them. I almost overlooked this trophy sitting on the top shelf of one of the cabinets. I'm guessing its for one of his pole wins; however, I'm not certain for which year.

West Virginia - Petty won three of the four races he entered at what used to be known as West Virginia International Speedway and now known as Ona Speedway. His third win was in the final Grand National race there: the 1971 West Virginia 500.

Fonda, NY - Historical revisions by NASCAR's media staff, ignorance by self-centered TV race 'analysts' and lazy media coverage lead many folks to believe NASCAR raced just in the south before R.J. Reynolds started its Cup sponsorship and that growth in northern and western markets only happen the last two or three decades. The truth is NASCAR ran plenty of races in northern cities such as Toronto, Islip/Long Island, Chicago, Bridgehampton NY, Oxford ME, and Fonda NY. The Grand National cars raced three times at Fonda. The King won the pole for the first two races, and he won the race at the last two of them. This trophy is from either his win in 1967 or 1968.

I spotted a trophy for one of Richard's wins at Islip, NY. However, I simply could not get my camera to take the ideal shot. Auto-focus, a tough angle, and flash glare all worked against me on it. (Click here for a blog entry I wrote about Islip in June 2010.)

Trenton NJ - I took these shots for my buddy, fellow Petty devotee and Schaefer Ring of Honor member (Trenton chapter) Brian '200WINZ' Hauck. They are from Petty's pole and race wins in the 1967 Northern 300 at Trenton Speedway. Here is the trophy for the pole win (stored right behind the 1970 Schaefer 300 trophy):

And here are the twins for the race win - one is for the winning driver and the other is for the winning car owner. Of course, the King took home both pieces of hardware since he co-owned the joint back home in Level Cross.

So I found the winning trophies for the 1967 and 1970 Trenton races. I was not successful in finding the winning trophy from 1971. Was it there? Perhaps. But I tried to carefully look in each case searching for novel wins such as that one.

Source: Taken and shared by Brian Hauck

Asheville-Weaverville - I know very little about this track in Weaverville, NC. For several years, the marquis event was the Western North Carolina 500. As a tribute to deceased driver Fireball Roberts, the track ran a second event a few years named the Fireball 300. This trophy is from Richard's win in the 1967 edition.

Riverside - The twisting road course outside of Los Angeles was a staple of the Grand National / Winston Cup Series from the early 1960s until its demise in the late 1980s. I thought this was one of the more unique trophies I saw. Richard won this one for the Falstaff 400 in June 1970 driving his Plymouth Superbird.

As seen in this video clip, Richard was also given a larger, more traditional trophy for the win; however, I didn't see it in the cases.

Here is a better view of the other trophy I didn't find.

Source: crabber1967's Photobucket site

Darlington - The Lady in Black is still with us unlike some of these other tracks; however, the once legendary Southern 500 is no more - at least not on its traditional Labor Day weekend. Richard consistently raced well at Darlington; however, he only had three career wins to show for all his efforts: wins in 1964 and 1967 in the Rebel 400 and the 1967 Southern 500.

The 1967 Rebel 400 win was a career milestone win as it was Richard's 55th win. The win broke a tie he had with his father. As a result, Richard became (and remains) NASCAR's winningest Grand National/Cup driver. Look closely at this picture, and you'll spot the trophy on the hood of the car.

One thing I found interesting about the trophy is the Marlboro sponsorship. Just four years later, R.J. Reynolds' Winston cigs would become the title sponsor of the series, and competing cigarette brands would no longer sponsor tracks, races or drivers.

Pocono - Because I started sliding towards existing tracks with Darlington, I'll close with one more unique one - but again an existing track. When NASCAR left Trenton Speedway in 1971, promoters looked for a new market to continue coverage in the area. Pocono was determined to be the answer. Its inaugural race was in 1974. Sure enough, the King christened its opening with a victory.

Again - note the plate for the winning drive was never engraved.

I'll next include some photos of trophies from wins at tracks that remain on the Cup schedule - and with a reason why I saw fit to shoot them.