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Racing fans of all types turn out to see ‘The King’

South Boston News
Kim Adkins of Axton was thrilled when Richard Petty autographed a 4-year-old newspaper clipping and photo of the two meeting at Martinsville. / August 31, 2017
Sunday’s races at VIR, the track’s largest race of the year, were an afterthought to many of the fans who waited in line to meet their idol Richard Petty.

He and ARCA racing series driver Thad Moffitt – Richard Petty’s 16-year-old grandson — were at Virginia International Raceway this weekend for the Michelin GT Challenge IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship, where Petty also served as the Grand Marshal.

The fans’ reasons for wanting to meet the NASCAR legend and 7-time winner of the Daytona 500 were as varied as the locales from where they reside.

A couple from Roxboro were there because their friend and neighbor was unable to be at VIR on Sunday. “He’s a big fan and a NASCAR nut. So, we came to get an autograph for him.” They planned to surprise their neighbor with the autograph at his birthday later in the year.

James Keatts, when he’s not raising money for God’s Pit Crew — a faith-based crisis response team — says he loves to watch NASCAR. This was the first time he was able to spend an entire weekend at the races. He and wife Lauren won tickets from a local radio station promotion to go see Petty.

Keatts said he admires Petty both for his racing skills and his work with the camp, Victory Junction Gang, he established for children with serious illnesses and special needs. He and Lauren were asking Petty to autograph metal wall hangings in the shape of a horse which looked more like a Mustang — though Petty was known more for driving a blue Plymouth and a Dodge Charger.

Debbie Fretwell and Kim Adkins said though they both love NASCAR, they had no particular interest in the races this past weekend. “We just came for Petty,” said Adkins. She was holding a newspaper clipping form four years ago with a photo of her and Petty. The photo was taken during an autograph session at Martinsville. Adkins was hoping he would autograph the picture. A short while later, Adkins got her wish as Petty happily signed her newspaper.

With few exceptions, the line of fans that snaked through the vendor area at VIR Sunday were happy to share their knowledge of Petty’s incredible race statistics. He is the most decorated driver in the history of NASCAR, with a record number 200 career wins and seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championships. But Fretwell said she doesn’t believe his skills as a driver are the reason Petty, who at age 80 no longer races, remains popular with NASCAR fans. “It’s because he’s down to earth. He’s never forgotten his roots,” she explained.

For more than an hour Petty shook hands, posed for pictures and signed his name to hundreds of programs, ball caps and other memorabilia. The only break came when Connie Nyholm presented him with a painting of his old racing car. Nyholm said the painting will be raffled off during a fundraiser held each spring for Petty’s Victory Junction Gang Camp.

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