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The People Who Race
By John Kilroy on September 12, 2014

For years, PRI would work to entice the noted Los Angeles Times motorsports reporter Shav Glick to write about the PRI Trade Show, and as part of the story, the industry side of the sport of auto racing. We would take Shav out to lunch at one of his favorite restaurants. We even flew him to the PRI Trade Show to participate in Smokey Yunick’s Industry Roundtable panel discussion one year. Shav was a great guy, and we loved hearing his stories, such as the era in Los Angeles when you would just naturally take a date to the midget race at Gilmore Stadium. However, when we’d pop the question about writing about the PRI Trade Show, Shav would tell us that he writes “about people, not parts.” We may have been disappointed with the answer, but there is no diminishing Shav’s power as a writer and all the good his stories did for the sport.

To this day, I think of Shav’s answer when I encounter extraordinary people in auto racing. The people who race are often amazing. In this column, I’d like to share one story. This one involves The King. Richard Petty was the featured guest speaker at last year’s Grand Opening Breakfast, interviewed onstage by MAVTV reporter Dave Despain and oval track master Ken Schrader. I have never heard the thousands in the Breakfast so quiet as when Petty talked. Great fun.

When the Breakfast was over, a lot of people stayed to try to talk to Petty, or get an autograph. One of the Petty’s colleagues whispered to me that Petty may need some help getting to his next event, which was very soon in the Ford Racing exhibit. I offered to help, thinking I could find a quick route through the kitchen area behind the stage. I found an open door, and asked one of the wait staff to make sure it stayed open because I was going to bring Richard Petty through the backstage kitchen area to get him to his next event. I next walked on stage and told Richard that he should come with me, and that I had a shortcut to get to the trade show floor. He immediately announced to the small crowd in front of the stage, “I’ve got to head over to the Ford booth now. I’ll see you all over there!” It was a pleasant shock that Richard did not announce he was leaving, but instead announced where they could all catch up again. Wow, I thought. I had heard about Richard Petty’s connection to his fans, and I was seeing it in action.

When I opened the door to the backstage kitchen area, I found it was lined up with folks on the wait staff and cooks for the Breakfast. As we walked down the corridor, Petty saw they were waiting for him, and looked each person in the eyes, and greeted them. “Hi...Hello....How are you doing?...Good to see you....” He shook hands with several as he walked. It was real. He was smiling, happy and engaging. Right and left, people would say with great respect in their voices, “Hello, Mr. Petty.” And Petty would answer them. On stage or behind stage, Richard Petty is Richard Petty, and he is The King. More than a celebrity. He’s someone who’s earned his rightful place in history, and a person from whom we all could learn a lot. I’ll never forget it. And I often share this story with non-racing folks I meet to try to explain the ‘people’ side of the sport. It always brings big smiles because even non-racers love to see that there are Richard Petty’s in the world.

About the Author
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John Kilroy is the Publisher of Performance Racing Industry magazine.
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