- I saw my first race at Nashville in 1974 - a national late model sportsman race of which I don't remember much.
- I watched Cup cars for the first time live in 1976 during qualifying for the Nashville 420.
- The 1978 Music City USA 420 was my first Cup race to attend, and
- Qualifying night for the Busch Nashville 420 gave me my first chance to roam a NASCAR 'garage' area on July 9, 1982.
I don't recall how I learned a pass could be purchased to simply walk through the back tunnel and into the hub of activity on qualifying night. But I remember the cost wasn't much - ten bucks or something like that. Other memories have faded from that night too.
- I can't remember if I went with someone or alone. I was a fairly new driver, and it's hard to believe my folks would have let me take the family Olds to the fairgrounds. But I have zero recall of conversations with anyone else I knew that night.
- Did I take a pen and paper or did someone let me borrow some? I've got several autographs from that night on varying scraps of paper, but I don't remember taking a notepad or pen from home.
A J.D. Stacy Racing van was parked on the quarter-mile, and I stopped for a look in hopes of meeting the #2 Buick's crew chief: Dale Inman. Though I didn't cross paths with him, I did spot the car's driver: Tim Richmond. He offered me a signed postcard, but someone told him they'd run out of them. Tim leaned into the van and said something to the effect of "Toss me that one right there. Yeah, that one." Next thing I know, he had autographed a copy of a race program, handed it to me, winked, and thanked me as he returned to his conversation. Needless to say, I was sky high and had renewed energy to seek out the Petty cars.
Stepping across pit wall and standing next to the car was a rush. Using my pitiful GAF 110 camera with the four-sided Magicubes, I carefully tried to frame and snap some choice pics. I opened plenty of sleeves of racing photos as a kid and had been disappointed with the results. But all in all, I was pleased with what I captured on pit road that night.
By 1982, I had three or four Richard Petty autographs in my collection. All, however, were on postcards sent to me by STP or Petty Enterprises.
I tried door number 1: Mr. Petty? (She would've been proud of me.) No response.
Door number 2: King? (Hey, I was a fan.) Nothing.
Door number 3: Richard? (She would've cringed.) Again, nothing - and I wasn't sure I was up to tapping him on the shoulder as a fourth attempt.
Finally and fortunately, a crew guy nudged his leg, pointed behind him, and said "That kid's trying to get your attention."
"Hey man, how ya doin'? How long ya been back there?"
It's kind of embarrassing now to look back at how pathetic my first encounter with Richard Petty was. Good grief, I was well up in my teen years. I had already approached other drivers that night, collected autographs, thanked them, smiled, and moved along - all without issue. For some reason though, meeting The King seemed different. It's a wonder I didn't just puddle right there from my nervousness.
Despite the fact he was about to climb into his car to qualify and was likely done for the moment meeting fans as he got ready to do his job, he did what King Richard seems to have always done. He took the time to greet a fan - and sign an autograph for this one for the first time.