If I were to say the name "Richard Petty" to you, what's the first thing that comes to mind? You may think back on his seven NASCAR Cup Series championships or his seven Daytona 500 victories. There's also his legendary tenure as the owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, or his numerous hall-of-fame inductions, or the whopping 200 times he saw the checkered flag during his 35 years as a Cup Series driver. Petty accomplished more than the majority of NASCAR drivers during his career, earning him the moniker "The King." And, being a king, Petty had the crown to match: his famous black cowboy hat.
Petty's been wearing the black hat with the medallion and feathers for so long that it almost seems like he was born with it on his head. But, did you know that he didn't start wearing his iconic Stetson until the late '70s? During an episode of The Dale Jr. Download a few years back, Petty sat down with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and explained the origin behind the accessory that would later become one of the most renowned hats in sports history. As it turns out, it all had to do with getting a foot in the door with sponsors.
"Got into one of the [sponsorship] deals — probably, more so, used to than what it is now," Petty said. "If he's talking to the Goodyear guy, you had an STP hat. Talking to STP guy, you had something else on. I said, 'Man, this ain't working,' You know what I mean? So you was always behind. The one thing about the hat: If the sun's shining, you don't get hot. If it's raining, you don't get wet. So works out pretty good."
The shrewd business move clearly paid off. Not only did Richard Petty's hat set him apart from every other driver on the field (his driving also happened to play a huge part in that), it also became a sought-after memorabilia item that every NASCAR fan would love to get their hands on. Of course, only Petty will every own the original.
Now, "The King" had plenty of other stories to share during his time with Dale Jr. that show that he's the ultimate NASCAR legend. Like the time he ate fried chicken with Ronald Reagan on the Fourth of July. If that's not the most American thing you've ever heard, then I don't know what to tell you.
"You and the President sitting side-by-side eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was the most American thing I've ever seen in my life." - @DaleJr
— Dirty Mo Media (@DirtyMoMedia) October 22, 2019
One of my favorite moments from the episode was when Petty recalled one of his first run-ins with Dale Earnhardt Sr. Let's just say that it was absolutely one for the books.
"I think the first remembrance that really sticks — I don't even know the first time I heard tell of Dale Earnhardt or whatever — was at Martinsville [Speedway]," Petty said.
"And I don't know, I started fifth or sixth or 10th or somewhere, [and Dale] was behind us. And we go down in the first corner — they throw the green flag — we go down the first corner, I'm turning here. Here comes a car across the grass, lands on my hood. Who is it? Dale. So I went over and said, 'Don't let that happen again.' I give him one of them finger deals, and that's the first time I remember Dale Earnhardt."
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