Over 50-plus years in racing, Richard Petty has given his autograph close to a million times -- sometimes as many as 5,000 times a day, he says. Almost all of them have looked as elaborate as this one, which he signed Thursday, May 20, 2010.
Richard Petty is legendary for his relationship with NASCAR fans. Nowhere is that relationship more apparent than when Petty is asked for his autograph -- a sort of "The King and I" moment that has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times throughout his career and is the subject of my column for Friday.
Petty invariably is polite to whomever asks and then produces this looping script that looks like it belongs in a museum. He told me Thursday at a NASCAR hall of fame event (Petty is one of the five men being inducted in its first-ever class) how that ornate signature evolved.
Recalled Petty: "It started sort of as a deal – somebody come up and asks you for one, you do it. Then more people and stuff. And then I got to looking at my autograph and looking at some of the other autographs and said to myself, ‘Look, if I’m going to take time to sign it, I hope they can read it.’ If they take it home and show it to their buddy and you can’t read it, then two weeks later they forget who it is.
"So I thought to myself I need to take the time so they can halfway make it out, anyway, and that’s the reason I take a little bit longer to sign autographs than some other people. It just got to be a habit so it’s not out of the ordinary for me to do anymore."
Petty, 72, also took a penmanship in business college that helped him learn the "fancy stuff," as he called it. I have watched Petty over the years sign countless autographs for fans -- he considers it his personal "Thank you" to them for being a supporter of the sport.
If you've got your own Richard Petty autograph story, incidentally, I'd like to hear a few of them. Put it in the comments below this story or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I told one of the thousands of "The King and I" stories out there in my Friday column about Petty's signatures -- it concerned a young Brad Daugherty getting Petty's autograph and wearing the No.43 in tribute after that -- but there are so many more.
As reporters, we are normally barred from obtaining autographs for personal use. In this case, though, I made an exception. I needed to actually see Petty's signature in front of me to write an entire column about The King and his autograph, and so I got him to sign his name on my reporter's notebook. That's what the picture at the top of his blog is about.
Shortly after our one-on-one interview ended, Petty saw some fans behind a metal gate who wanted his signature, too. He tipped back his black cowboy hat and strode toward them, grabbing one of the Sharpies he always keeps in his left pants pocket for just such an occasion.
“Just another day of bein’ Richard Petty,” he said to me over his shoulder.