It was a unique consignment, but Keith Vari of Paragon Auctions thought it could use a personal touch.
A consignor had turned over Richard Petty’s 1973 Daytona 500 trophy that he’d purchased from an insurance company. It seems the original trophy had a small break in it, a claim was filed and a new one was created.
The 1973 victory was one of seven the legendary driver captured at Daytona.
Vari had an auction coming up and he wanted to add Petty’s autograph before putting the trophy into his catalog.
A little research led him to sudden opportunity on Saturday, October 12.
“I wanted to get it signed before the auction and found out there was this event called Richard Petty Fan Club Day at the Richard Petty Museum in Randleman, North Carolina,” Vari told Sports Collectors Daily. “He does two events a year at his museum and fans come from all over to meet him and get an autograph.” The autograph session is part of the Petty Fan Club’s gathering during the Randleman NASCAR Day Festival.
The event at the museum lasted five hours, but Petty was only scheduled to sign for 90 minutes.
“When I called the Museum and asked about getting the trophy signed they told me about the event and that there were only 150 autographs available on a first come, first served basis.”
To have a chance at getting an autograph, he’d have to join the Richard Petty Fan Club. The $10 cost was reasonable enough but he’d have to get there early. He was told members would probably start arriving at around 6 AM, well ahead of the time Petty would show up.
Anticipating a long but hopefully memorable day, Vari couldn’t sleep. In the wee hours of the morning, he decided to hit the road for the 2 ½ hour ride from his South Carolina home to Randleman and the autograph session that was scheduled to start at 10:30.
“I arrived at around 4 AM and to my surprise there were fans already waiting. By 9 there was a long line.”
Two autographs were included for the $10 membership fee.
Vari spent the morning chatting with other fans about Petty’s career and the fundraising efforts that assist the Victory Junction Camp founded in memory of Petty’s grandson, Adam, who died 19 years ago during practice for a NASCAR Busch Series race in New Hampshire.
Finally, it was time to meet “The King.”
“He arrived promptly at 10:30 to sign and they had a few handicapped children at the front of the line,” Vari recalled. “He hugged each one and spent some time talking with each of them and then signed autographs for them.”
After a few minutes, it was Vari’s turn. After chatting about the trophy, Petty prepared to sign the front but Vari had thought an autograph on the bottom would be better, preserving the original look.
“After he signed the bottom, I said ‘you were right, it would look better on the front’ and he laughed and signed the front. From talking to his fans he always picks the best area to sign and if he doesn’t like it he will resign it in another place. It does look way better signed on the front.”
Mission accomplished, Vari headed back home. While he was excited to have a signature added to one of the nicer items in his auction, he was just as happy for the experience of watching an iconic sports figure happily interact with fans, still appreciating them 60 years after he was named NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year.
“The event was something to see. He is like no one I’ve ever met. He’s bigger than life but is one of the few people who have stayed true to himself and his fans.”