BYRON — NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty is returning to the Middle Georgia Raceway Saturday, but this time he won’t be in a hurry to get around the track.
Petty is the grand marshal for the third annual Middle Georgia Racers Reunion 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the old speedway.
The 76-year-old raced at the track in the late ’60s.
“We would just roll in and race. I think we won three or four of them down there,” Petty wrote in an email to The Telegraph. Indeed, Petty raced on the track eight times and won four of those races.
In addition to Petty, about 20 to 25 other racers who have competed in Byron are expected to be at the event. Organizers said there will be moonshine tasting to honor the track’s history of having a distillery underneath turn three, along with vendors and replicas of Petty’s race cars on display.
Since the first year of the event, fans have been asking Larry Smith, track coordinator and volunteer at the speedway, what it would take to get Petty to come to Byron. Smith and some of his contacts went to work to see if they could pull it together.
“We wanted to see what kind of a shot we got,” said Smith.
Petty agreed to come if a sizeable contribution was made to the Victory Junction Camp. The camp is for children with serious illnesses and was founded in honor of Petty’s late grandson, Adam Petty.
Smith worked with Jeff Smith Chevrolet to secure the funds to make a donation.
Petty is scheduled to arrive at the race track at 11:45 a.m. and is expected to stay for two hours. He will be traveling from the Atlanta Motor Speedway where NASCAR races are being held Labor Day weekend.
The people who Smith has talked with at Petty’s organization say when the king comes to town, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 people who show up.
“We’re probably going to have a large crowd,” said Smith.
While Petty is expected to sign autographs for the general public, the only way to be guaranteed a signature is to buy a VIP ticket, which is $100. With the VIP access, there will be a tent with a cooling system, beverages and a lunch ticket along with the opportunity to meet Petty and get an autograph. Regular admission is $10, and children 10 and younger are free. Tickets may be purchased in advance at Jeff Smith Chevrolet in Byron.
Petty said he averages about 1,000 autographs each week.
“You name it, I think I’ve signed it,” he said.
Petty was a pioneer in being accessible to racing fans, and Smith attributes his popularity to the fact that Petty used to keep signing autographs until the last fan was gone.
“If it weren’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be racing. I always looked at it that way,” Petty said. “If it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be a ‘Richard Petty,’ you know? So, anytime I shake a hand or sign an autograph, it’s like saying ‘thanks.’ They spent their time and money to see us race or come out. So, that’s a big deal.”
Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report.