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CP MOTORSPORTS – MONTE DUTTON: A KING FOR ALL AND ALL FOR A KING

 

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Last week I noticed that Richard Petty had been added to the North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

The King of Stock Car Racing – regal in the same way that Elvis is for rock ‘n’ roll, Roy Acuff for country music and Tut for Egyptian monarchs – won one race in the B/Altered class at Bristol International Dragway in 1965.

I would be delighted at Petty representing North Carolina in Statuary Hall of the United States Capitol, but I don’t believe his body of work merits a place in a drag racing hall of fame.

I’m stodgy that way. I, who have earned votes in no hall of fame elections, have elite requirements where halls of fame are concerned. First of all, to be in a hall of fame, one must be famous. It’s not a hall of those who work diligently behind the scenes. Or for those who are otherwise famous in other fields of endeavor.

No writer, broadcaster or wizard of Twitter should be in a hall of fame that does not consist of the greats of writing, broadcasting and Twitter wizardry. Fame embodies performance, not description.

I have undertaken this thankless, bah-humbug project today not because I want to criticize Petty but because I want to praise him. My intentions are borderline Shakespearean.

Richard Petty is the greatest figure, the greatest personality, the winningest driver and the most important person in the history of NASCAR. It’s possible to debate the best driver, and Jimmie Johnson’s seventh championship has made it a burning issue, but no one – neither of the Bills France, not Dale Earnhardt, not Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Curtis Turner nor Jeff Gordon – rivals Rapid Richard the Randleman Rocket in Relevance on Racing.

Some think he has signed more autographs than any person in history, and none of them was for cash on the barrelhead and under the table at trade shows. Like Steve Earle’s road in Oklahoma, Richard Petty is “straighter than a preacher and longer than a memory.”

I was 10 or 11 when I first met Petty. He won on the then-dirt of Greenville-Pickens Speedway, and I said to him, “Hello, Mr. Petty,” and he asked, “What’s your name, son?” and I said “Monte” and he asked, “How you spell that?” and I said, “It’s got an ‘e’ on the end,” and he said, “I like ‘at, know what I mean?” and I didn’t, but he still signed a program “To Monte,” and commenced to completing an autograph that looked like it was produced by a Spirograph, which I reckon not that many know about anymore since they’ve got Playstations and such.

It was hours after the race. Everyone else, except Petty, his fans and some impatient fellow left to give the King some company on the drive back to Level Cross, had gone. That fellow had to wait until everyone got an autograph who wanted one.

I remember this so vividly because a kid doesn’t forget that kind of treatment from a genuine hero.

This worshipful youngster must have grown up into a hard-bitten pundit. Life tends to do that, but then was then, and now is now, and I will wouldn’t put the King in the hall of fame of an almost entirely different monarchy.

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