Wednesday, July 01, 2009


NASCAR legend Richard Petty was the Newsmaker on my The Race Reporters radio show Wednesday on . This weekend at Daytona is the 25th anniversary of his historic 200th Cup victory -- in front of President Ronald Reagan. Mike Harris, who retired yesterday after 30 years as the Associated Press' motorsports writer, and Lewis Franck, of ESPN the Magazine and Reuters, joined me for the journalists' roundtable. Here are a few highlights of Richard's interview:

What do you remember the most about that day?

"It was an exciting day for all the drivers just knowing that the president was coming. He said, 'Gentlemen, start your engines,' from the airplane (Air Force One) that was flying from Washington to Daytona. We cranked it up and then forgot all about the president . . .

"I stopped the car on the start/finish line and went up into the booth where the president was . . . I guess what impressed me was that the president, he could not understand Cale (Yarborough) and myself running 200 mph (for the win) with smoke flying off the cars. I think that really impressed him. It impressed me that he was excited about it . . . I think that made him a race fan after that . . . I always told people, 'We got the president on the sports page, and he got us on the front page.'"

How did you deal with earlier auto manufacturer withdrawals from NASCAR compared with today?

"When we first started, there was no factory involvement . . . The factories got back in in the '60s and out got in the '70s. We've lived through these before. The way things have happened the last few years, most of the big teams have their own engineers . . . If they're not here, we'll improve, we'll just improve a little bit slower."

How is Victory Junction camp (for ill children) doing in terms of fund-raising given the economy?

"Well, we're still surviving. We've still got a lot of people who really believe in it. What we've wound up doing, we've had as many people contribute as we've ever had, but the extra money is not there. Instead of sending a check for $100, they might send a check for $25. All the charitable deals right now is kind of in the tank because of the financial deal of the country. We're still operating. We're still doing our thing. In fact, we broke ground for another Victory Junction camp in Kansas City . . . I think it's going to be a little bit slower getting it going because of the economy. These are the kind of kids who can't go to a regular camp because of their afflictions. We give them a chance to do things they've never done before. It broadens their horizons, from riding a horse to going swimming, using a bow-and-arrow, climbing ropes. We give them all those opportunities to do that. Then, when they go back home, somebody will tell them they can't do it. They'll say, 'Hey, we've already done that. We want to do this over here.' It's a life-changing experience for the kids and for anybody who's ever been there and seen them do it."

It's widely believed that you, Bill France Sr. and Dale Earnhardt will be three of the first five inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Who should be the other two?

"I've thought a whole-lot about this. Being it is a Hall of Fame, then I think they ought to go back and look at some of the people that got me in business, OK? You go back to Lee Petty or Curtis Turner or Junior Johnson, all of these guys who were there when it started in order to give me and Earnhardt a chance to do it. We came along and, hopefully, we expanded it. Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne and these boys got a chance to do what they're doing today. Instead of getting the people who somebody knows, get some of the people in the background that people have forgotten. I think those are the ones who need to go in the Hall of Fame."

Listen to the entire show by using this link:

The Race Reporters podcast is now available on iTunes:

Upcoming guests:

July 8 -- Newsmaker: Ron Capps. Panelists: Jim Pedley, Jeff Burk, Alan Reinhart.

July 15 -- Newsmaker: Scott Atherton. Panelists: Larry Edsall, Greg Creamer, Jonathan Ingram.

July 22 -- Newsmaker: Ray Evernham. Panelists: Ed Hinton, Bob Pockrass.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]