You kiddin' me? Petty and Newman in the same room?
What happened when Richard Petty walked into a room and started talking racin' with Paul Newman? Magic, writes Marty Smith.
Updated: October 9, 2008, 11:26 AM ETBy Marty Smith | ESPN.com
Oftentimes during my youth, my daddy would say to me, "Boy [he never called me by name -- Southern thing], shut up and listen. You'll learn something." And he was right, per usual. There's too much blabbering and not enough listening these days. Everyone wants the last and loudest word, when a lot of times we should muzzle ourselves and contemplate alternate points of view. Or, more importantly, experience. We as a society come by it honestly, really. We learn it by viewing political analysis programming and sports analysis programming and by listening to bickering radio hosts. Admittedly, I'm as guilty as anyone. On both counts. That's one reason this story is special to me When the doors to the elevator opened, and Richard Petty stood there sans sunglasses -- no lie -- flashing that world-famous 10-zillion-gigawatt smile, and asked me what I was doing just then, I was speechless. The answer was simple: "Whatever you want to do, sir." It was the night of the "Cars" movie premiere at Lowe's Motor Speedway, a soggy summer evening as humid as a sauna, and I was looking for a dry spot to watch the movie. Petty had climbed to the suite level for a meeting. His grandson, Austin, was alongside him. All the King said to me was, "C'mon, this will be cool." Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir. We moseyed through the concourse as he greeted fans thoughtfully, yet hastily. I walked behind him. Walking beside him wouldn't be right. I still had no clue where we were going; didn't rightly care. Then we reached the target, a suite overlooking the racetrack. It may have been track owner Bruton Smith's suite, but I honestly don't recall. The square footage was that of a fine starter home. The door opened and the King slid his long, lean frame through. Austin followed, then me. It was dark, and I couldn't see much other than a small scrum of people in the foyer. When the King walked in they parted, revealing a legendary racer with his hand extended. Paul Newman. Whoa. Petty and Newman both voiced characters in "Cars." Petty played himself, sort of, and Newman portrayed the part of the old crusty Piston Cup champion "Doc Hudson," who knew a thing or two about young hotshots who weren't so hot, and how fleeting the limelight is. They'd known each other through the Victory Junction connection, too. Newman had helped Kyle and Pattie get started through his Hole in the Wall Camp model. Two legendary Americans, standing there together, face to face. They stood and chatted for 15 minutes, maybe. It was utterly surreal. I looked around at the others. Mesmerized faces and awestruck, maybe awkward, smiles. The movie wasn't mentioned. It was all racing, their shared passion. And I didn't know this until this week, but it may have been the only time they ever really talked racing. "When [Newman] would come around the camp, they'd never talk about racing together," Austin Petty said. "He'd come up to camp and talk about the camp, or branching out or something. I'd never seen them chat about old racing stories until then. And I remember [Newman] was talking about running the Grand Am Series, and the King said, 'No, I always raced ovals,' and all that jazz. That was cool to see." Uh. Yeah. I wanted to jump in head-first and conduct an interview for the ages. So much excellence. So much knowledge. So much insight. And ohhhh baby, the stories they could tell. But I flinched, thought better of it. I heard my daddy, loud and clear, as if he were standing right beside me. Shut up and listen, boy. You'll learn something. Indeed.
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonPaul Newman, middle, joined Richard Petty, far right, Pattie and Kyle Petty, from left, and young fan Haleigh Epperson for a 2002 Victory Junction ceremony in Randleman, N.C.Now, The Six Marty, Am I the only one who gained a new appreciation for Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson after the Kansas race? I have never rooted for either one of them. They could have sat back and just let the race end, but they both threw points racing out the window on that last lap and went for the win. Seeing Greg Biffle and Jeff Gordon do serious battle for THIRD place was almost as fun! To all the other chasers: THAT IS HOW TO RACE! -- Sue Bilger, Seattle No way, Sue. Millions of fans shared that same excitement and appreciation -- me included. I was at home watching with my buddies, and we were screaming like 10-year-old girls and spilling beer like frat boys. So much for the notion that Chasers points-race, play it safe in the name of conservation. Edwards' banzai move into Turn 3 was exhilarating. For two straight weeks, Chasers made it about seizing the moment -- the big picture be damned. Johnson and Matt Kenseth did the same last fall at Texas, too. As a fan, it's nice to see. Because if you really think about it, that's what fans pay for. Fans pay for the moment -- the opportunity to see their driver win on that very Sunday, on that very track. The big picture is icing. Watching drivers seize the moment like that reaffirms why you're a fan in the first place. And right now, drivers are delivering. That was the best finish I've seen in quite a while. And for the record, I said the same thing last week. Marty the Party, It's about time you mentioned a song that's worth listening to (Skid Row's "I'll Remember You"). If you had said "18 and Life" I would be able to forgive your enormous butt-kissing of one Kenny Chesney all together. Between your bromances with Chesney and Dale Jr., it's a wonder you have time for your old lady. Take this insult like a man and put me back in The Six! -- JB, Columbus, Ohio You made the cut based solely on the term "bromance." It made me laugh out loud. Song of the week: "The Highwayman." The Highwaymen -- Willie and Waylon, Cash and Kris. This is Legends Week, man. Petty. Newman. The Highwaymen. Virginia Marty, I figured an e-mail to you would get my simple question answered: How was it decided to have 43 cars in the starting field? -- Dustin, Maineville, OhioNASCAR tells me it's nothing more than evolution, Dustin. According to NASCAR, it wasn't until the past champion's provisional was added in 1998 was there a uniform mandated number of cars for the starting field. Why 43? No one can tell me. I'm assured it's not about Richard Petty, even though the champion's provisional was created to ensure that he made the show each week. He was the biggest draw. Sorry, man. I was expecting Angelina and got Roseanne. Marty, Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs, Richard Childress, etc., had to build their empires from the ground up when they first started, so how come up-and-coming and struggling teams today complain they do not have any sponsors? Do what those guys did. Go out and find sponsors. Don't sit back waiting for the money to come to you. It seems to me that these struggling teams are just ran by lazy owners. -- Touchdown Irish, Indianapolis First of all, Gipper, there's no comparison between then and now. This answer is a rambling mess. Bear with me. Comparing NASCAR 1985 and NASCAR 2008 is like comparing Daisy Duke characters. The original Daisy, Catherine Bach, was raw, real, unrefined. And to devoted fans (like me), she was the hottest thing on Earth. Same for mid-80s NASCAR. It was raw, real, unrefined, and the best thing going for devoted fans. Twenty years later, Jessica Simpson's Daisy Duke is flashier, more commercial, and to new Dukes fans is the hottest thing going.
with Marty Smith
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