Fans gathered Friday night for the opportunity to see, hear and meet one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, “The King” Richard Petty.
Petty was the guest of honor for the “Taste Of History: Auto Racing in Northeast Georgia” event held at the First Baptist Church Banquet Hall.
The event was sponsored by the Northeast Georgia History Center and and benefited its operations and education outreach.
“There have been a lot of good racers come out of this (Northeast Georgia) area, especially when NASCAR first started,” Petty said.
“A bunch of the early (NASCAR) pioneers came from this part of the country. They were a big part of NASCAR.”
Petty is member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and is tied with Dale Earnhardt with seven NASCAR championships. He also holds the all-time wins record, amassing 200 victories in his career.
“History is what got us where we’re at,” he said. “A lot of it we probably need to forget, but you still got to have a base for everything that goes on.
“Without the history of this part of the country (here) being involved in NASCAR, there might not have been a NASCAR. It wouldn’t be as big as what it is.
“I came along as NASCAR grew, so I was just clogging the wheel to make it go a little bit, and it’s still growing. It took everybody to make it work. It’s not one person or one part of the country that made it work. It just took a volume of people and time and money, and here we are.”
Petty spoke with the fans about his family, how he got started in the sport, and he also shared stories of fellow competitors and some of his favorite moments. He was also joined by his longtime crew chief, Dale Inman, for part of the event.
Petty also thanked the fans and said it was them who made him what he is.
Columnist and author Ronda Rich, who served as master of ceremonies, said she has never seen Petty turn a fan away, whether it was for an autograph, picture or to talk.
Carl Morrison was one of the many who met Petty on Friday night. He said when he heard about the event, he knew he wanted to come.
“I got to shake his hand. He seems like he is a nice man,” he said.
Carolee Gailey, a graduate of Gainesville High School in 1959 and longtime race fan, said Friday night was special because she was able to have Petty sign her 1970 Plymouth Superbird, a near carbon-copy of what he drove when he raced.
After he signed the car, she said all she could say was “thank you” to him.
“I get the car out for special occasions,” she said. “The autograph was my prize for the night.”
She also said the event was good for the Hall County community because it brought many people out and benefitted the history center.
“I like to participate in my community,” Gailey said.
For more information on Friday night’s event and the history center, visit www.negahc.org.