It was Richard Petty Day at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison on Friday and “The King” was all over the track.
As part of the leadup to the Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, Petty, 84, met with fans, race organizers and the media.
And Petty, the winner of seven NASCAR season championships, seven Daytona 500s and 200 total races, took the ceremonial first lap around the 1.25 mile racetrack. The slim, 6-foot-2 stock car racing star strode through the track sporting his trademark cowboy hat adorned with feathers.
The race will be the first time the top NASCAR drivers compete in a sanctioned event in the St. Louis area. It will be televised on FS1 at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Here’s a roundup of Petty’s answers to questions posed to him throughout the day:
What was he thinking before he hopped into his signature No. 43 car for his ceremonial lap?
Petty noted he retired in 1992 and hasn’t raced on a track for several years.
“So don’t look for nothin’ fancy, I’ll tell you that,” he told fans in an address before his run. “No burnouts and none of that kind of stuff.”
And after his lap, he was asked how fast he went on his trip:
“I’ve never run this track so I took it pretty easy,” he told the BND.
“It’s a pretty tricky track, especially (turns) one and two so that’s going to be a busy corner,” he said.
He noted that the “majority” of the racers have not raced at World Wide Technology Raceway track before and they have “got to learn the track” during their one-hour of practice time they had on Friday.
In looking back at your 200 NASCAR wins, which one stands out for you?
“The first was a big deal, and the next one and the next one,” he told fans.
“Really probably the 200th race I won in 1984 at Daytona in front of the president of the United States on July the Fourth. If you was writing a Hollywood script, nobody would believe it. I guess that was the pinnacle of my career from that standpoint.”
That victory in Florida was at the Firecracker 400 and President Ronald Reagan joined Petty in victory lane that day.
“That was the cherry on top of the cake because that was my final win too,” Petty told the BND.
What does the inaugural Enjoy Illinois 300 NASCAR Cup Series race mean for the St. Louis area?
“It’s new territory for us from the racers’ standpoint. It’s new territory for all the fans,” Petty told the BND. “It’s going to help NASCAR open up the Midwest as far as fans.”
He praised the area businesses that have invested in the track and sponsored events at World Wide Technology Raceway, which previously was called Gateway Motorsports Park.
“And I don’t think they’re gambling with it because it’s going to be such a success.”
What was the most unusual autograph you ever signed?
Petty told fans he was at the North Carolina State Fair years ago and a man told him had something to sign and then disappeared for a moment.
When he returned, Petty was surprised to see what he was supposed to sign.
“He had a duck … and he spread the wings out on that duck and I put Richard Petty right across it.”
“When he lost his feathers, he lost a signature so, I’ll probably have to go back and do it again.”