Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

At 75, Petty Remains 'King'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

At 75, Petty Remains 'King'

Article excerpt

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Don't bother tweeting happy birthday wishes to Richard Petty. The King is more comfortable back in the 20th century, where he and NASCAR grew up together -- and grew up fast.

"If you give me a computer, the only thing I know is to stick the cord in the wall," said Petty, who turned 75 Monday. "After that, I'm out of here. I've lived all this life without it. I'm just not interested in that part of society's change."

Keep it simple. Keep it personal, face-to-face and right hand extended for a warm handshake. That's the Petty style, accompanied always by that double-wide Petty smile.

Even without the big cowboy hat, festooned on the front by a fistful of ostrich feathers, you'd know it was Richard ambling through the Daytona garages during qualifying and practice for Saturday night's Coke Zero 400. He's the one constantly signing autographs and snapping pictures with a grinning parade of fans who clearly feel welcome in his company, and why not?

Just a few days ago, before flying to Daytona, Petty shared with visitors to his Randleman, N.C., race car museum a $5 lunch of hot dogs, chips and cupcakes. The cupcakes, of course, were iced in red, white and blue.

"It just blows my mind," Petty told a television crew from Spartanburg, S.C., to shoot video of the usual long line of people lined up to meet the birthday boy. "Older people I can understand. Then you see their kids come in. They've been indoctrinated by their parents and grandparents."

And by Pixar, too. Petty gave voice to the character of Strip "The King" Weathers in the 2006 animated film "Cars," and that voice magically emanated from a 1970 Plymouth Superbird, still looking pretty cool after all these years.

If time flies for the rest of us, it must rocket by at a ridiculous rate for a race driver.

Way back on the Fourth of July in 1984, Petty won the last of his record 200 NASCAR races. Ronald Reagan was president at the time, which is of more than the usual significance because the nation's chief executive just happened to be at Daytona International Speedway that day to witness what then was known as the Firecracker 400. …

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