RANDLEMAN, N.C. – The 10 trophies are front and center as you enter the door.
“That’s Petty Enterprises; that’s what it’s all about,” says Richard Petty, recipient of seven of the 10 pieces of hardware inside the glass case that stretches from floor to ceiling.
The other three were won by his father, Lee Petty.
They are championship trophies. NASCAR championship trophies. The first was won in 1954, the last in ‘79.
This is The Petty Museum. Hallowed ground and NASCAR history.
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“If you come here, you see the history of NASCAR,” Richard Petty says as he pauses for a moment, stopping briefly between the museum/gift shop and what’s known as the Red Floor shop. “We run the very first race and we’ve been running them ever since.
“Most museums, they’ll take the stuff from the original place and put it in the deal with chandeliers and all this so it loses its authenticity. When you walk in here, you’re in the middle of the history. Not only the museum but you’re walking on historic ground that’s had race cars … what, 268 race cars win races out of this one shop? That’s a bunch.”
The Petty Museum is more than just one building. It’s a gift shop and museum and Randolph County historic landmark and “home place” and one of the few geographic sites where one can touch and feel the timeline of the sport of stock car racing.
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At one time, the Red Floor shop, which takes its name from the red floor running throughout the building, housed the bulk of the race shop where race cars were built and rebuilt, prepped and repaired on a weekly basis.
Today it still houses cars, but none that have seen a race track in many years.
There are glass cases along the back walls filled with race trophies, collectible items, fan-made clocks and memorabilia from other sports (autographed footballs and baseballs presented to the King). Miniature trains and planes and automobiles. And a tree. Or part of one, anyway. A carving of the King found on a Colorado Aspen, dated 1972, was discovered in 1999. It now resides here.
There is also a replica of Petty’s first race car, an Oldsmobile, as well as the last car he drove competitively – the damaged Pontiac from the ‘1982 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
There are displays featuring Richard’s son Kyle and Kyle’s son Adam here, and the Plymouth Barracuda drag raced by Petty briefly in ’65.
“I think we have five of the seven Daytona 500-winning cars in here,” Petty says about as nonchalantly as someone who has won NASCAR’s biggest race a record seven times can.
Across the asphalt, the gift shop/museum also houses cars but not nearly as many. It contains more “collections,” according to Petty, who then corrects himself. “Not a collection, it’s an accumulation of things.”
More trophies, display cases filled with everything from pocket watches to knives to belt buckles. Photos of Petty with all manner of celebrities, political figures, athletes from other sports.
“Everybody impresses me,” he says when asked if he ever met anyone who rose above all the rest. “I don’t know of anybody, presidents or whoever, that stood out. I put everybody on the same scale, that’s just the way it is.”
There is one display nearby that causes him to pause.
“That’s the most prized thing we’ve got right there,” he says, pointing to the display that holds his Presidential Medal of Freedom award presented to him Dec. 11, 1992, as well as photos of NACAR’s all-time race winner posing with various presidents.
“Racing brought me to the limelight but it’s (supposed to be about) your whole career, what you do good, bad and indifferent.”
The museum contains enough guns to outfit a small community – shotguns, rifles and pistols line the walls of one entire room and there have been so many presented to Petty that the display now continues out into the main shop.
Many are works of art rather than weapons, with ornate details etched into the stock or along the receiver.
Off to the side, a small group of plain, nothing-fancy firearms has his attention.
They are “all family guns,” according to Petty and include those owned by his grandfather, his father, his brother, son and himself.
“The very first gun I ever had, a single-shot (.22 caliber),” he says pointing to one rifle. “I was like seven years old or something. I wanted a BB gun for Christmas, me and Chief (Maurice), but there wasn’t no way we were getting BB guns.”
His parents “figured we’d shoot at each other with BB guns,” he says. “So they got us .22s because they knew we wouldn’t shoot at each other (with those).”
Alongside the family rifles and shotguns is a pistol Petty purchased for his wife, Lynda, shortly after they were married in 1958.
“I was gone 2-3 weeks at a time and Lynda lived in the house by herself so I bought her a gun,” he says. “I think we took it out, took her out back where we showed her how to shoot it. She brought it in and put it by the nightstand and when she died (in 2014) it was still by the nightstand. She’d never moved the cotton-picking thing. I just felt like she’d feel safer with it. I knew she wouldn’t use it.”
The house next to the Petty compound was built by Petty’s maternal grandparents and eventually served as home for Lee and his family, then Richard and his wife and children.
“I remember, a big deal I guess for me, I was about 4-5 years old and we’d eat supper and then go sit on the front porch,” Petty recalls. “And Granddaddy Toombs would sit on that side of the porch and chew tobacco and spit out into the yard.
“One night I kept aggravating him, said ‘give me some.’ So he finally gave me some (tobacco) and I think I made it about three chews and just passed out. It took me about 30 years before I dared chew anymore.”
Tours of the house will eventually be added to the Petty Museum experience.
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The reaper shed where Lee Petty first began tinkering with cars and where Petty Engineering was born faces the gift shop/museum and Red Floor shop.
It’s small and tiny and cool in the shade and there’s the concrete floor poured all those years ago by Richard and Maurice.
It was the starting point for of one of the first families of NASCAR. And then, just like the sport, it grew and grew and spread this way and that and pretty soon it was so much larger than anyone ever envisioned.
Back inside the red floor shop, Petty surveys the scene once more.
“I walk through here and see things I don’t think I’ve ever seen, but I know I have,” he says.
It’s history. The history of the Pettys and the history of NASCAR, too.