In North Carolina, Richard Petty is The King, and like any sovereign, there are signs of his rule across the land. They’re in the faded tire tracks along our speedways, like Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, where the NASCAR legend won his 100th race. They’re in the miniature die-cast replicas of his “Petty blue” No. 43 car — many of which he’s signed — that sit in fans’ homes. And they’re everywhere in Randleman, where a bronze likeness of him and his late wife, Lynda, stands in the center of his namesake park. His statue holds a trophy, as he often did during his 35-year career.
Before he was The King, Richard was a kid growing up in nearby Level Cross with a dad who liked to drive fast — so fast, in fact, that he won the first Daytona 500 in 1959. There were only about 700 people living in town when Lee Petty started racing, so he and his sons took advantage of the wide-open spaces to hone their skills. Eventually, the younger Petty outdid his dad, winning seven Daytona 500s, just a fraction of his 200 overall wins — still the most in NASCAR history. The King retired in 1992, but his legacy continues on the racetrack: Today, young drivers use his passing maneuvers, lightning-quick pit stops, and nose-to-tail drafts. Many debate the greatest of all time in American sports, but when it comes to North Carolina racing, there’s no doubt who reigns supreme.
Racing fans visiting the Petty Museum in Randleman can look inside a replica of the Oldsmobile that Lee Petty drove to first place in the inaugural Daytona 500 race in 1959, a victory that earned him about $19,000, the most lucrative race of the year. photograph by Stacey Van Berkel
Speed through the years
photograph by Stacey Van Berkel
When fans visit the Petty Museum, they marvel at the racing memorabilia, the trophies, and the cars in which the Pettys raced to fame. They can tour Richard Petty’s childhood home, where his father, Lee, lived most of his life. The museum is home to the Reaper Shed, Lee’s first race shop, where Richard and his brother, Maurice, poured concrete over the dirt floor in 1949, just a few months after their dad’s first race. The initials “LP,” along with the month and year, are forever marked in the floor. This collection is an homage to racing in North Carolina — through the eyes of the sport’s fastest family.
Sept. 30 In the small town of Randleman, race cars and antique vehicles of all kinds line the streets, and tents filled with racing memorabilia are scattered across downtown. Richard Petty is out and about, autographing everything from road signs to pizza boxes while sporting his signature black shades and cowboy hat. It’s the annual NASCAR Day Festival, a popular event celebrating a storied North Carolina sport in the community where the first family of NASCAR has lived for many years. The day-long event features live music, barbecue, crafts, kids’ rides, racing simulators, a cornhole championship, and a visit with The King.
In a land that has remained mostly unchanged for thousands of years, Cherokee culture continues to evolve. With renewed energy, citizens of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are shaping their own narrative.