My memory of the Draft taking Bobby away is limited at best. I was just 8 years old when Bobby came across the street from his house to ours and told me he had been “drafted”. At my age I was clueless as to what that meant but Bobby took the time to explain. The only part of that explanation that I remember was that he wouldn’t be around for a couple of years. It was a cold February day in 1955 when Bobby left. He left early in the morning, so I didn’t even get to tell him goodbye. My mother assured me that he would be returning at the very least in two years. Do you remember how long years seemed to be when you were eight years old? After Basic training Bobby was assigned to Ft. Belvoir, VA, so he wasn’t really that far away. During the time he was in the Army, he would get home for a couple of two weeks leave. During those two weeks, we were rolling to every race we could make. The 1941 Plymouth was retired to the garage where it remains to this day. Now Bobby had a 1954 Chevy. (ICYM. Chapter one Click Here).
When February 1957 came around, Bobby was home and now he was married. His wife was Mary Ruth, and she was very sweet and was a race fan also. The second thing she told me when we met was that I would be included in all race trips. She was instantly my favorite aunt. The racing seasons didn’t really start until April, so we started going to every race within 200 miles. The big thrill was going to the 1957 Rebel 300. When we pulled into the track, I could not believe how huge the track was. When the engines started, we could hear the rumble from our third turn infield parking space. When they were rolling by us on the parade laps I was shaking with excitement. When they came by on the first lap at racing speed it was like nothing I had ever imagined.
So, of all the 1957 races we attended that one certainly sticks out. The 1958 season came along, and Mary Ruth had their first and only child. Bobby and I went to some races but not as many as usual. We attended the Grand National race at Columbia and then to the Convertible race at Columbia Speedway’s half-mile dirt track. I was walking behind the pit fence and spotted an Oldsmobile convertible, and someone told me it was to be driven by Richard Petty. Right away, my mind was made up; from that night on I was a Richard Petty fan. Twenty-five cars started that night and Richard qualified 13 out of 25 cars which included many of NASCAR’s top stars.
I never took my eyes off that convertible that entire race and when it was over Richard finished sixth. I was really excited. Although I had never asked for an autograph, but I wanted one from Richard. I found an empty popcorn box and tore off the top and was careful to do so where it would be a perfect rectangle. I walked up to Richard and asked for his autograph. Of course, I did not have a pen and Sharpies were not in style back then. We found a gentleman with a ball point pen, and he loaned it to Richard to sign my box top. Not many people gather around Richard because, I guess, he was not a big name, I don’t remember all we talked about, but I do remember asking him if he was going to race again. I don’t recall the answer, but we all know what happened after that night. Oh, and Richard has said, in an interview I did with him that I got his first autograph.
I had no idea what had started that night but looking back over all those years I’m sure glad it did. On the way home I was just rattling off all my excitement, and I remember telling Bobby I was now 100% a Richard Petty fan. Bobby’s response was “he’ll never be the driver his daddy is” but Bobby came around in a couple of years. I hope you’ll come back for the next chapter.
(Editor’s note: If you missed any of Tim Leeming’s articles, here at PTR; they can all be found Here )
Photo Credit (cover): Getty Images