By Susan Shinn
RANDLEMAN ó After nearly 20 years and two locations, the Richard Petty Museum is still going strong.
So is its executive director, Doris Gammons.
Four years ago, the museum moved to larger accommodations in downtown Randleman.
“It just got to be too small,” Doris says of the previous location. A native of Granite Quarry, she’s been with the museum for nearly its entire existence, she says with a broad smile.
The museum is not only a tribute to “The King” of NASCAR, but now houses extensive personal collections of Richard and Lynda Petty.
Thanks to Victory Junction Gang Camp just down the road, and the success of the Disney movie “Cars,” there’s a continuing interest in the man who drove the number 43 car.
As a reminder to fans about Richard’s turn as “Mr. The King” in the animated film, the 1970 Plymouth Superbird is the first thing you see when you come in the front door.
Doris watches children’s faces light up when they see the vehicle.
“There’s Mr. The King’s car!” they shout.
“Those little bitty kids know what that is,” she says.
There’s a room just for kids, where they can sit and color a likeness of the Super Bird, which is then put on display. Doris points to a pile of pages from a recent weekend.
Unfortunately, the kids can’t watch the “Cars” video while they color.
“Someone swiped it,” Doris says. “I’ve got to go to Wal-Mart to get another one.”
In the 40-seat theatre, fans can watch a brand-new commentary the racer did about two months ago for the FSN South show, “In My Own Words.”
Then visitors are free to wander the 4,200-square-foot facility.
The main emphasis, of course, is on racing. There are any number of Richard’s race cars on display, as well as Lee Petty’s first car he ever had, a 1296 Model T.
He was the first member of the Petty family to take up racing, and the tradition has since stretched to four generations.
There’s Lee’s 1959 Chrysler that won the inaugural Daytona 500, as well as Richard’s last ride, the car from the 1992 Atlanta race which caught fire.
Visitors can peruse Richard’s 400 racing trophies, and check out the sports memorabilia he’s collected over the years. He’s a big Redskins and Yankees fan.
There’s his one-of-a-kind leather jackets, the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received in 1992 from President George H.W. Bush, and any number of other accolades and awards.
Richard has seven Winston Cup championships to his name, and the seven diamond rings he garnered are on display.
He was the sport’s first million-dollar winner, as well as the sport’s $5 million winner.
Richard’s 200th win took place at the Firecracker 400 in Daytona on July 4, 1984, with President Ronald Reagan in attendance.
That 1984 Pontiac is on display for another year from the Smithsonian Museum. It’s valued at $6 million.
There’s a display about Victory Junction Gang Camp, the camp for chronically ill children started by the Petty family in memory of Adam Petty.
The car from Adam’s 1998 win in Charlotte is on display.
“Adam was only 4 or 5 years old when I came to work,” Doris says. “He was really a nice kid. He was so mannerly.”
Visitors will also get a glimpse of Richard’s personal collections: his knives, belt buckles, watches and guns ó all of which was previously kept at his Level Cross home.
Doris calls the collection of guns “out of this world,” and notes that most of them are number 43 in a series, in tribute to Richard’s racing career.
Lynda Petty contributed her collection of more than 800 dolls.
It took Doris and other staff members about two months to set up the museum before it opened to the public.
“Richard did not hire a professional decorator,” Doris says with pride. “We did it all.”
No museum is complete without a gift shop, and the Richard Petty Museum has an extensive one.
“We have lots of T-shirts and of course we’ve got the cowboy hats,” Doris says.
Want something really special?
How about a Richard Petty Crock-Pot for $35?
“They sell good,” Doris says. “They really do.”
Twenty-five bucks gets you an autographed tire. Sheet metal and other racing memorabilia is available at the museum’s annual auction Oct. 20, with all proceeds benefitting Victory Junction.
Now 78, Doris took a job at the museum as her “retirement job.”
“I’ve just stayed,” she says. “It’s just a good job. I hate to give it up.”
Doris continues coming to the museum five days a week.
Two other staff members work on Saturdays. Altogether, the museum employs five people and sees about 25,000 a year.
Hours for the Richard Petty Museum are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and free for children 6 and under. The museum is located at 142 W. Academy St. For more information, call 336-495-1143 or visit www.pettyracing.com.
Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or email@example.com.
By Susan Shinn