From Courier-Tribune: Ben White Correspondent
Even though he turned 83 years of age this past July 2nd, he still enjoys going to race tracks, that is under normal circumstances without COVID 19 pandemic restrictions.
He is, without a doubt, stock car racing royalty. He still sports the black hats, straight cut jeans, gator skin boots and dark wrap-around sunglasses that have been his trademark for decades.
Petty is simply “The King” and seemingly always has been. The moniker was given to the Level Cross, N.C. native during his most successful season 54 years ago that will never be equaled or surpassed. He was first given the name in 1967 in a newspaper article written by Benny Phillips, an award-winning motorsports writer with the High Point (N.C.) Enterprise. That year, Petty Enterprises dominated the sport with 27 Cup (then Grand National) victories in 48 starts including 10 consecutively using only one 1966 Plymouth Belvedere for the entire season.
Each time he is asked about retirement from racing, a wide grin comes over his face followed by his standard remark.
“What is the world would I do if I retire?” Petty has said in recent years. “Racing is all I know. (Laughter) I’m a little too old to farm and all of my friends are at the track. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Even though he officially retired from driving at Atlanta Motor Speedway 29 years ago, he could still command quite a crowd before the pandemic became the current way of life. On countless occasions, he gladly posed with fans with cameras and cell phones to record the moment.
Petty is still a larger-than-life iconic elder statesman among NASCAR’s drivers and teams as well as millions of fans around the world. He was the first driver to log seven Cup Series championships in the 1960s and 1970s and was followed by only two other seven-time champions-Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Petty also has 200-career victories, a mark that most likely will never be matched. His career has also been well documented through thousands of radio and television interviews. Anyone who has even remotely heard of NASCAR in passing associates Petty with the sport.
Most notably, there is no boasting about what he has accomplished in life.
“My biggest accomplishment would be just to be remembered,” Petty has said in recent years. “If people look back and remember what you did, for whatever reason, that’s pretty humbling and makes you feel good.”
Petty is quick to point out that many people heavily contributed to his success, such as a small army of loyal crew members who built and maintained his famed No. 43 Oldsmobiles, Plymouths, Dodges and Pontiacs through the years.
“I guess it was an honor to be named, ‘The King,’” Petty has said. “However, I never tell people that I am the King of anything and I somewhat guess it was automatic being that my name was Richard. They may not have used it if my name was Joe. (Laughter) You don’t hear of “King Joe” very often.”
Among all of his wins that include seven Daytona 500 victories, there’s isn’t one particular win that seems to outshine another.
“I came along into (NASCAR) at the right time for Richard Petty and Petty Enterprises in the right place. Success was in the timing,” Petty said. “It personally meant that I had a successful career and didn’t realize what was accomplished until I retired. It was about fate. Being in the right place, the right time for us and things just came together.”
Dale Inman, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee who serve as crew chief for Petty from the very beginning, looks at his cousin for much more that what they accomplished on short track and superspeedways around the country.
“There are records books that have covered everything in racing,” Inman said. “I’m more proud of what Richard has done outside of racing where there’s no record, “Inman said. “That’s things for churches, families, schools and Make-A-Wish kids just to name a few. He certainly has stepped up on that. He doesn’t talk about those things but it’s something he’s always done.”
Jones is excited to be driving for one of the greatest racers of all time.
"It is an incredible honor to have Richard Petty want you to drive for his race team and with the car number he made famous," Jones said. "Richard Petty Motorsports has a rich history in the sport, but they are not resting on that history. They still have something to prove, and I have something to prove. We are both motivated to write a new chapter….”
He truly is the King.