I am sure this story already appears, in some form, or perhaps several forms, in things I have written for the site previously, but in as much as I so much enjoy remembering and re-living events from the past, I thought I would add it to the current Blog Posts. It involves Richard Petty and a bunch of young kids.
I actually became a fan of Richard Petty at his very first race, a convertible event at Columbia Speedway in 1958. Part of the reason was because my Uncle Bobby who always took me to the races was a huge Lee Petty fan and by default, I became a fan of Lee as well. When we went to Columbia Speedway that night in 1958, Lee wasn't there but the 21 year old Richard was. I decided right then and there I was going to be a Richard Petty fan, not to defy my uncle, but just to have my own driver for whom I could cheer. Little could I have dreamed what an adventure that decision would lead to for the years ahead. Thanks, Richard, for a great trip!!!!
Somewhere around the 1960 World 600 (first race at Charlotte) I encountered a couple other folks around Columbia who were into racing and were soon converted to fans of Richard Petty, thanks to my never ending motor mouth buildupof the driver with then limited success. The other guys and I would get together and listen to the races that were broadcast on radio and pull for Richard. By 1962, we were racing bicycles at tracks we had built all around the neighborhood. I, of course, was always racing the Petty blue number 43 bike. Man, was I ever in good shape then.
After the 1962 Daytona 500 (My first trip to Daytona), I was talking to a girl in my history class at school who had started a local fan club for Elvis. At first I didn't think too much about it but then started to consider why not a fan club for Richard Petty? By this time, we had about 8 guys into the Richard Petty group so we talked about it, but not much else. By mid 1963 we decided to do it.
What little we teenagers knew included the fact that an "official fan club" needed a Charter. We took a 8 1/2 X 11 sheet of paper, typed a short statement about having persmission of Richard to start the fan club and then places for signatures of Richard and Lee and the president of the club (me) and Vice-President (Sammy McClary). We then took some of that Testor's Number 10 (I think) model car paint and painted, in large letters across the top of the page "Richard Petty Fan Club of Columbia".
On August 8, 1963, the local Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, Marion Burnside, brought Richard to town to appear there all day before the race at Columbia Speedway that night. Although Richard wasn't scheduled to arrive until about 10:00 a.m., a group of us were there are 9:00 a.m, with our Charter in hard, waiting when the car pulled up. On the trailer was a blue Plymouth with no numbers. Richard had alerted Marion Burnside and Mr. Burnside had a local sign painter come over and paint the numbers on the car, not the usual font used by Petty, but still the number 43.
Richard signed the Charter, as would Lee later in the day when he arrived. That Charter hangs on the wall behind me right now. Marion Burnside Chrysler-Plymouth presented us with a check for $25.00 made out to the Richard Petty Fan Club. In 1963, that was BIG money. We promptly opened a checking account.
Our fan club made flags for the front fenders of a car, much like those in the President's limo, one saying "Richard Petty Fan Club of Columbia" and the other with our unique club emblem. Those flags hang over my head as I type. We also made a huge flag with "Plymouth 43" on it and that flag attained some notieritythrough the years having appeared in a movie, a photo spread in Stock Car Racing magazine in a photo record at The Richard Petty Musuem. Richard autographed that flag when he set the season record for wins, and again when he set the record of wins, breaking his father's record.
Thanks to a letter to the editor of Southern Motorsports Journal, our club gained fame around the racing world and we eventually had over 500 members in 30 something states, and a Marine stationed in Guam. We set up a get-together in the turn three infield at the 1964 Southern 500 and we had over 100 people from all over gather there for the race. Even Sammy Bland, a well known announcer of the day, came by and spent some time with us. We put out a monthly newsletter from 1964 through 1966. We did all that with no membership dues but with contributions from Marion Burnside. Finally, we ran out of money in early 1966 and published and mailed our "last" newletter. We said in that paper that it had been fun, but the money was out so that was it. Within two weeks, we had received over $300.00 from folks that wanted us to continue. Some of those old Newsletters are still around although the memeograph copies are faded to almost unreadable.
One final note on this August 8, 1963, race. The pastor of my church then, Porter Anderson, someone who played a big role in my life, was a member of the fan club and decided to attend the race with me that Thursday evening. I told Richard, at the dealership, that my pastor would be with me for his first race. When Porter arrived at the speedway that night, he and I walked over to the pit fence (we didn't have pit passes and the guard on the gate was NOT accommodating). Richard saw us coming and he walked over to the fence, met Porter, and talked to him for at least 10 minutes. When the race got started, Porter and I were walking around the infield when we encountered a member of the press standing in turn two taking pictures with a flashbulb. I will never forget my mild-mannered pastor asking the guy NOT to snap a picture when Richard was coming by because the flash might blind him.
So, as you can see, August 8, 1963, was a big day for me and a lot of Richard Petty fans around the area, and, come to think of it, around the country. Also, as Richard had signed the Charter, I now had official authority to aggrevate him the rest of his career, which I managed to do with great success. Just ask him1