Friday, June 8, 2012

2012 Charlotte race trip: Petty's Garage

I continue today with round two of what is likely now a four-part blog series about the expected and realized great times enjoyed by many - including me - during four days in Charlotte for the Coca-Cola 600, the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Schaefer racing experience, and all related trappings.

Thursday evening, we ripped a mighty Whoooo! upon seeing the two Richard Petty Motorsports Fords sweep front row. On Friday morning, Schaefer Hall of Fame co-founder Philly, Schaefer Ring of Honor member Brian "200WINZ" Hauck, WINZ' son, and TMC spent several hours at ground zero of where the Petty racing family began - in Level Cross, North Carolina.

The first stop for Philly and TMC was at the Level Cross United Methodist Church cemetery to pay our respects. Buried there are the parents of Richard and Maurice Petty - NASCAR Hall of Famer, 3-time Grand National champion, and 54-race winner Lee Petty and his wife, Elizabeth.

Mrs. Petty's maiden name was Toomes so I suppose her grave marker could technically be referred to as a Toomes Stone.

In front of the Petty plot was one for another Toomes family. While I didn't take pictures of it, we did study the dates and names. The husband Toomes was born within a couple of years of Elizabeth Toomes Petty leading us to believe he may have been her brother and Richard's uncle. Next to him lay his wife whose maiden name was Staley. My mind began to wonder. Is it possible she was related to NASCAR driver, Gwyn Staley? Gwyn was from Burlington, NC - not terribly far from either Greensboro or Level Cross. Lee and his brother Julian were originally from Greensboro, and Lee later moved to Level Cross. Gwyn drove a few NASCAR convertible races for Julian. So with racing bringing folks together on a personal and professional level, I suppose my hypothesis may have some merit. And yes, feelers have already been extended to someone in the area to see if I can glean new info.

Leaving the church, Philly and I made the short hop to the Level Cross Volunteer Fire Department - Station No. 43 of course. The department was in the processing of installing a a brand new sign just as we arrived. We'd like to think this may have been the first (or near it) photo taken of it - complete with a recognizable font for their station number.

With only a brief stop to watch the sign installation and say hello and thanks to the fireman, we re-loaded for the ride down Branson Mill Road to Petty's Garage. I visited Petty's Garage (blog entries) and the Richard Petty Museum (blog entries) about a year ago - but immediately hoped for the opportunity to return.

Upon arrival, we were told we could look around the main 'showroom' (the red-floored shop of what used to be the Petty Enterprises race shop) and peek a bit at the projects. But we were also cautioned that we shouldn't be out on the floor getting in the guys' way as they worked on cars and prepared for the next day's Petty Fest.

Acknowledging the basic 'rules', we browsed around the main room. I won't recap all of the stuff we saw because a lot of the cars were the same ones I mentioned in my blog a year ago. However, we did note a couple of standouts.

I got a much better view of the Legacy By Petty custom-built convertible this year. This thing is just sick. You can't fully appreciate the detail of the hand-painted collection of Petty images on both sides without standing right next to the door.

I was also taken aback when I spotted Old School Cool. This street version 1981 Buick Regal with Kyle Petty replica paint scheme is owned and was restored by Jim "Member #77" Boyle. Jim is a fellow Petty fan who posts regularly on a couple of Petty-themed message boards I frequent. Petty's Garage helped him with fabrication and installation of a few of the pieces on the car. It was a true pleasure seeing Jim's work up close. You can see a few more photos of his project here and an article about his restoration here.

After browsing around a couple of minutes, however, I began to get the itch. We wandered towards the shop floor with the hopes of spotting Doug Murph who'd been kind enough to give me a two-hour tour last year. We found him, and I reminded him of my visit and his courtesy a year ago. As expected, he really didn't have any recall of me. The more I talked about the good time I had, however, I think he began to have some slight recall. I told him I wanted to show Philly some of the same legendary yet abandoned rooms of Petty Enterprises. He looked at us, smirked, and said "You know your way around. Go wherever you want to." With that, we were off.

A handful of restoration projects were underway on the floor including:
  • A 1969 winged Dodge Daytona...
  • A 1970 Plymouth Superbird
  • A Hudson Hornet...
  • ...whose engine I'm quite sure isn't a stock one from the 1950s era. Vroom!
  • A Ford pick-up truck 'shoebox' project. This is going to be be a long, tedious, expensive restoration.

We then wandered throughout other rooms of the shop finding nary a locked door. Fans of Petty Enterprises likely know the shop was essentially built one room/shop at a time over the decades as needs arose. Floor elevations and thresholds from one room to another don't always align. There isn't a natural 'flow' throughout the buildings as is found in contemporary race shops. Yet these buildings are where magic happened for about 50 years.
  • Championships for Lee and Richard. 
  • More than 250 wins for Lee, Richard, Kyle and Adam Petty.
  • Victories by hired guns such as Pete Hamilton, Jim Paschal, Joe Millikan, Buddy Baker, Bobby Hamilton, Marvin Panch, and others. 
I again found Maurice Petty's old dyno room, PE workbenches, racks of mounted tires, etc. The musty, dust-laden air smelled richly of racing history. Then opening another door, we stumbled across a room packed with old Petty cars previously driven by more contemporary drivers such as Kyle Petty, John Andretti, Jeff Green, and Bobby Hamilton - including this mid-90s STP Pontiac.

We then opened a door, received a greeting of sunlight, and realized we'd exited the back of the shop. Doug toured me back there somehow last year. However, we stood a good ways' back from the back of the property then. He described some of what we saw, told some funny and memorable stories, and then led me back into the shop.

I wanted to explore more during this trip. For the next few pictures, many may think the old vehicles look like hunks of junk. But for me, the rusting bodies screamed racing history and questions of "wonder what this one is all about?"

Some of the neat finds spotted were:

An old Dodge tractor cab that once hauled the famous Dodge by Petty 43 Chargers of the 1970s.

A mid 60s Plymouth Barracuda

Newer racing fans may not realize the King drag raced a Plymouth Barracuda in 1965 while a boycott by Chrysler Corporation kept the Petty's factory-backed Plymouths off the NASCAR circuit for several months.

An old Chrysler Imperial and Lincoln parked side by side. One of my uncles introduced me to racing in 1974. I still remember a huge Chrysler he drove - probably not too far in body year as this one. It was more of a powder blue vs. a Petty blue. But he definitely tried to get one colored as close as possible to his favorite driver's car color. The hoods on these things were longer than a drive across a Kansas prairie.

An old 1940s era Dodge languishing in the weeds.

I've got a Racing Champions die-cast of Lee Petty's car I think was designed based on a similar era Dodge Lee drove.

In the early 1990s, Maurice Petty's sons, Mark and Ritchie gave racing a shot just as their cousin, Kyle Petty, did. (Today, Mark and another brother Tim are involved with NASCAR as engine tuners with Richard Childress Racing.) Mark and Ritchie started with late models with limited sponsorship from a Winner's Circle Auto Parts. The company was a fly-by-night operation for whom Maurice was a spokesman.

We noticed this old box truck likely used to tow the late model to area short tracks.

Mark Petty made nine starts from 2000-2001 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (now sponsored by Camping World). Parked close to the back building under a roof was his Dodge Ram from the 2000 Dover race.

A couple of clues helped me hone in on the specific race for the truck. One, the NASCAR 2000 decla by the A-post. Two, Sambo's Tavern is the place we ate dinner last fall near Dover where we met King Richard. Of Mark's starts, only one was at Dover in September 2000.

At the edge of the paved lot sat the remains of Ritchie Petty's #53 Ford. As best we can tell, this is the car involved in the multi-car, turn one wreck during the 1993 DieHard 500 - one at which Philly and I attended.

Here is a better view where Ritchie's car can clearly be seen along with Jimmy Horton as he leaves the yard and Stanley Smith who took an impact angle similar to Dale Earnhardt's crash at Daytona in 2001. Safety crews arrived almost too late to Smith. Suffering a tremendous blood loss in the crash, he nearly became a fatality at the track. Fortunately, the safety crew was able to reach him, stabilize him, and get him to the hospital for surgery and recovery.

An odd-colored Dodge Magnum from the late 70s.

The King drove a Dodge Magnum for about two-thirds of the 1978 season. He finished third driving the Magnum in the first Cup race I saw at Nashville. Taken as a whole, however, the Dodge simply wasn't consistently competitive. Petty switched to Chevrolet as the season wound down and stayed with General Motors until 2000.

The boxy Magnum figured prominently in the early phase of Kyle Petty's career. Kyle won the 1979 ARCA 200 at Daytona in his very first race start driving a hand-me-down, discarded Magnum from Richard.

The team prepared another Magnum later that season as a Winston Cup car, and Kyle drove it to a ninth place finish in his first career Cup start in the 1979 Talladega 500.

Some Plymouth by Petty sheet metal.

We then went back inside the shop to meet up with 200WINZ and his son who had just arrived. The four of us explored a storage building where several additional treasurers awaited us. Among the things we found were:

The NASCAR street sweeper built from a Kyle Petty Dodge Charger by Jesse James during the first season of his show Monster Garage. If you didn't see the episode back in early 2000s, here is an article about the build and a few photos from it.

In the corner, we stumbled across an interesting but puzzling pile of body panels. Piled up were a grill, front and rear quarter panels, roof, and rear deck from a 1974 #28 Dodge Charger.

I began to rack my brain thinking of any Cup team from the 70s that may have raced a #28 Dodge. I recalled Hoss Ellington fielding a #28 Chevy for drivers such as A.J. Foyt and Donnie Allison - but that was it.

In discussing the car with 200WINZ, he had a vague memory of reading something on the web about the car. With a few Google searches, we honed in our answer.

One of the early - and coolest - projects by Petty's Garage was the restoration of the Petty Enterprises - built 1970 Plymouth Superbird driven by Pete Hamilton to victory in the 1970 Daytona 500. I knew about the PG project, but I didn't realize the old car had been re-skinned as a 1974 Dodge Charger, repainted and raced as a #28 late model along the west coasts. The body panels we spotted were apparently the discards after the #40 'Bird was re-skinned to its original Plymouth look.

Credit: Mopar Muscle Magazine
Our final find had all sorts of relevance. Stored inside the original, single-car, 'reaper shed' built by Lee Petty as he began his racing career was a 1969 blue Ford station wagon.

The wagon was originally driven by Lynda Petty, Richard's wife. Richard later sold the station wagon to someone in Randleman area. Amazingly, the man held onto the car over the years, and Richard recently re-purchased it. Presumably, the car will be restored back to its original factory look.

Fans of the Disney/Pixar movie Cars may recall the character of Mrs. The King (voiced by Lynda) was ... a blue station wagon.

Credit: Pixar Wikia
In addition, 200WINZ had his photo taken as a kid by the same station wagon the first time he met The King in 1969.

Roger Penske announced earlier this year his team will switch to Ford beginning in 2013. Since then, questions have been asked, and rumors began to fly. Who would become the new Dodge team(s)? Who will build the engines. Will Front Row Motorsports jump? What about Ganassi? And as many Petty faithful have suggested "I hear Petty's teams will make the switch."

So who knows - what was once old may become new again.

To be continued...



  1. I love these entries! Can't wait for the next one! - Kevin

  2. Wow!!!!!!!!!! busy day at Petty, NICE!! UDR

  3. Always a great read! a43isking