‘The King’ Honored With Lifetime Achievement Award By Prestigious Petersen Automotive Museum

Photo by Jerry Jordan/Kickin' the Tires

By Jerry Jordan, Editor

LOS ANGELES – Praised for the manner in which he interacted with fans and lauded for his seven championships and 2oo career wins, Richard Petty a.k.a. The King, was honored with Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement Award Thursday night by the famed Peterson Automotive Museum.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is one of the largest automotive museums in the world and considered one of, if not, the most prestigious. It was founded by Robert E. Petersen and his wife, Margie, who made their fortune in publishing Hot Rod, Car Craft, Motor Trend, CARtoons, Guns & Ammo, SPORT, Motorcyclist, Teen, Tiger Beat and Sassy magazines.

Surrounded by a tony list of auto racing’s elite, Petty said he couldn’t have built the career and fame he has achieved without those who supported him and cheered him on along the way.

“I look around this room and I see a lot of people, a lot of people I know and even a lot of people I probably don’t know,” Petty said, to the crowd. “For me to stand up here, 99.9 percent of you people out there made Richard Petty. He couldn’t have done it by himself. Y’all were behind him whether you know it or not, you were able to push me and my team to the front. And to you all, all of you, I say ‘thank you for doing it’ because I am just a little bit lazy. The only reason I drove a racecar was because I’d have to go to work for a living if I done anything else.”

At times, the ceremony honoring the soon-to-be 80-year-old legend was touching but it also bordered on being a comedy show. Whether it was the banter between Jeff Gordon and Kyle Petty or the elder Petty saying the Petersen Foundation had to come up with “a gimmick” to get everyone in the same room to honor him, it was a fitting tribute to The King.

“I appreciate Petersen Publishing to get you all in here and using me for it,” Petty said. “Our crowd back home, the Petty Museum, to be able to work with these people here, this is the number one automotive museum in the world, not just the United States. So, for us in Level Cross, N.C. a small little place, to be able to be associated with it and have you all recognize us – it took everybody to make it all work from that standpoint. So, again I want to say ‘thank you’ to Petersen Publishing for allowing me to be here and to come to see y’all and talk to y’all go much I appreciate it. It is not a one-man show, this is not a one man show, I am not a one man show. I had to have a lot of good people going in the right place, at the right time, under the right circumstances and had people like you backing me and buying my Smithfield products for the racecar. It all make sit work.”

To close out the event, the younger Petty played guitar in an impromptu three-song concert but that was after he, Wallace, NASCAR’s Mike Helton and longtime rival, Bobby Allison, shared their memories of The King. For Allison, the memories included times when the Petty’s and the Allison’s had to be separated from one another but as he sat on the stage, he revealed a secret he’d kept for decades.

“Richard Petty and Bobby Allison excited the fans for years and I am going to tell you what, I couldn’t say this in a lot of places or at a lot of times but I really admired this guy and I could not let him know it,” Allison confided. “I couldn’t let him know it. The competitiveness in me, I could not let him know that. But the way he took care of the car, the way he did the racing and the way he did the fans really turned me on and I had to get in there and get in this business with this guy. I am proud of the fact that we got to run together.

“I’ve got to tell you a little story on this whole thing. Richard Petty was good everywhere and I really admired that part. I could go pretty good on pavement, road courses or paved tracks or whatever but I really struggled on dirt. And I beat Richard Petty at Savannah one night on dirt and it was just like I had one five Daytona 500’s.”

Prior to accepting honors, Petty spent part of the day at Auto Club Speedway, where he took his old Super Bird for a spin around the track with Kyle Petty behind the wheel of one of his own cars. The Super Bird had been in the Petersen Museum and was rolled out for an upcoming, yet-to-be disclosed TV special featuring the father and son duo.

“You know, I don’t know if I would have guts enough to do it now,” Petty said, when asked if he got the itch to return to the track. “It wasn’t guts then, I didn’t have no more sense than to do it but hopefully I have more sense that to do it now. It didn’t run very fast and we had trouble getting it started and all that but Kyle had one of the cars like they used to run and we run eight or 10 laps. You know how they just take pictures and all that. We probably did 80 to 100 mph but we didn’t do no racing because the car had just come out of the museum and hadn’t been rechecked, so I wasn’t about to run wide open … it was a lot of fun. It was neat.”

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