MOUNTAIN TOP — A NASCAR legend remembered a local legend Friday.
Richard “King Richard” Petty, the most decorated driver in the history of NASCAR racing, has won a record number 200 career races and seven NASCAR Cup championships during his illustrious career. He was in town Friday to help his sponsor, Smithfield Foods, Inc., donate some 40,000 pounds of products to the Weinberg Regional Food Bank. The event was held at Weis Market, Mountain Top, who partnered with Smithfield to make the donation to the food bank.
Petty, now 77 and retired from racing, remembers the early days of NASCAR and he also remembered the late Joseph “Doc” Mattioli, founder of Pocono Raceway, site of this weekend’s Go Bowling.com 400. Mattioli died in January, 2012.
“Doc was just starting out when we first came here,” Petty said. “And he didn’t really know much about the racing business. But he sure learned.”
The Pocono track and its famed tri-oval layout was good to Petty. He won there twice — in 1974, the track’s inaugural event, and again in 1976.
“I like the track,” Petty said. “Those three different straightaways are a challenge.”
Petty liked talking about the old days of racing. He said the sport began in 1949 as a stock car event and grew to be NASCAR with advanced technology.
“Racing was just a southern sport when it began,” he said. “Look at it now. It’s all over the country and fans all over the world.”
The lanky Petty wore one of his trademark Charlie 1 Horse hats, a belt buckle that read “King Richard,” boots and sunglasses. When he smiled, he lit up the parking lot.
Angie Schwichtenberg, spokeswoman for Petty, said he wears the hats and then donates them to charities for fund-raising. The hat he wore Friday was black with feathers, bones and a big gem in the middle.
“It’s his trademark,” Schwichtenberg said.
After a news conference, Petty was eager to get to a table set up in the parking lot to meet his fans, who ranged in age from 5 to 75. And Petty didn’t disappoint.
Donna Cunningham of Mountain Top was literally shaking after meeting Petty and getting his autograph and a picture.
Asked why she was shaking, Cunningham said, “Are you kidding? It’s Richard Petty. It’s The King.”
Cunninhgam was accompanied by her two daughters, Ashley, 24, and Kelli, 16. They were equally impressed.
“We watch NASCAR every weekend,” Ashley said. “We even visited the Richard Petty Experience in Las Vegas.”
Jim Boyle, 58 of Mountain Top was first in line to meet Petty. He said he has followed Petty for 40-plus years, but this was the first time he got to meet the legend and shake his hand.
“He’s an honorable man,” Boyle said of Petty. “He’s won a lot of races. He’s always been good to people. I finally got to meet him and he’s a regular guy; a legend in NASCAR.”
Karen and Mike Williams couldn’t wait to see Petty. Karen had pictures and autographs of Petty, but she wanted to shake his hand again.
“I want him to sign this — a Richard Petty #43 Collector’s set,” she said.
And Petty did sign it. He signed just about everything the fans brought and he posed and smiled for pictures.
Aric Almirola now drives Petty’s famed blue #43 Ford.
• Competed in 1,184 races, retiring in 1992.
• Racing families such as Andretti, Grissom, Green, Fittipaldi and Labonte all raced for “The King.”
• Born on July 2, 1937, in Level Cross, North Carolina.
• Began professional car racing in 1958; was nicknamed “The King” for winning the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR national championship each seven times during 1964–1981.
• His son, Kyle Petty, also became a NASCAR driver.
• Winston Cup Series Champion, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979.
• Grand National Series Champion, 1964, 1967.
• Daytona 500 winner, 1964, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1979, 1981
• All-Time Wins Leader in Sprint Cup Series (200)
• All-Time Poles Leader in Sprint Cup Series (123)
• Holds record for most Sprint Cup Series wins in a season (27 wins, 1967)
• Holds record for most consecutive Sprint Cup Series wins (10 wins, 1967)