Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Moment With the King

Linda Petty, the wife of NASCAR legend Richard Petty, passed away earlier this week in Level Cross, NC after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. On this Throwback Thursday I want to share a couple memories I have of the Petty family as my small tribute to Linda.

Growing up in North Carolina in the 1960s and 70s meant that you knew about a lot about 2 kings. The first was Elvis. The second was Richard Petty. With 200 career victories, Petty ruled NASCAR in ways that few other sports have ever been dominated by an individual or team. Now before we go on, I have to make a true confession that may well get my official Tar Heel card revoked- I have never been a NASCAR fan (Go ahead and throw things at the screen- I'll wait...). But in stock car racing mad NC, the best driver was indeed the king. At that, for many years, was Richard. So everyone knew OF him. But I got to know the family through a series of events that had nothing to do with racing. They had to do with summer camp.

Sometime around 1980 the Petty's youngest daughter, Rebecca, and a group of her friends were campers for a week at Quaker Lake Camp, where I was working. Linda and Rebecca's older brother Kyle (who by then was beginning his own racing career) brought her to registration, stirring up quite a buzz among the racing fans and passing out Petty-blue STP hats to the staff. Rebecca had a great time and came back a couple of more summers, and each time there was more excitement. They even brought one of the race cars down so everyone could get a close look. On several of those occasions I was working the registration table or helping out at check-in and had some great conversations with Mrs. Petty. She was a sweet, down-to-earth woman who loved her children and asked for no special treatment. I also met Richard on one such occasion. It was an honor.

Fast forward to the early 1990s. I was working as the youth pastor at Springfield Friends Meeting in High Point, NC.  Marilyn and I were eating dinner at the Bamboo Gardens Chinese Restaurant in Archdale, which is a short drive from the Petty compound in Level Cross. We already eating when in walked the King and his wife- Richard wearing his trademark cowboy hat and smiling at everyone. As they were being escorted to their booth they passed our table, and Linda stopped, looked at me and said, "Didn't you work at Quaker Lake when our daughter went there?" When I responded "yes" she and Richard stopped and chatted for a minute about how much Rebecca had loved camp and caught me up on what she was up to as an adult. It was a fun and friendly visit. They were seated and that was the end of it for them- but for us the fun was just starting! The restaurant was quite crowded, and as we peered around the room it seemed everyone was starring at us. They all knew who the Pettys were. But WHO were these people that the King had stopped to visit? They just knew we had be famous too! The buzz continued for quite a while. I've always wondered how disappointed those folks would have been to find out it was a lowly youth pastor and his wife just out enjoying some egg drop soup...

So that's my story of the night I rubbed elbows with royalty. My thoughts and prayers are with the Petty family as they mourn the loss of their wife, mother and grandmother. I know she will be missed, Rest in peace, Linda.

Because of Jesus,

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