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Day 4: Richard Petty reflects on retirement

NASCAR.com

MIDLAND, Texas ? It's good to be the King.

Richard Petty has been that for almost as long as anyone in NASCAR can remember. A seven-time Cup champion, winner of 200 races, the icon of the sport, at 76 years old he remains a garage-area mainstay and one of racing's grand ambassadors.

Almost everywhere he goes, even in tiny crossroads towns with populations approaching zero, there are people waiting for Petty to sign an autograph for them. He has signed so many over the past half-century that it seems amazing that everyone in North America doesn't have one.

Still, they come.

There they were Monday night in front of a hotel in Midland, lined up along the sidewalk because they knew the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America was coming to town and the King would be on aboard. As he has done on so many thousands of other occasions, Petty signed cheerfully as long as people were waiting.

For those who thought he might fade into the sunset when he retired from driving in 1992, Petty had a surprise. He hasn't left the mainstream, and he doesn't plan to.

"Retirement is a change of life," Petty said Tuesday. "If you retire from anything, you have to change the way you've been living up to that time. I've done all this stuff so long that it's kind of a habit. I guess I don't want to change the habit. I've never even thought about changing it. I'm halfway satisfied with most of it."

And the autographs? The constant autographs?

"It's just been part of my life," he said. "It's a deal when I started getting a little recognition, and then it got to be bigger. It's just part of me. It's part of what I do. It's what it takes to make a day for Richard Petty.

"I guess I've just cornered the market on autographs."

Of course, Petty remains very involved in the sport as one of the owners of Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields Fords for Aric Almirola and Marcos Ambrose. The team has made big strides this season, but Petty said there is still much room for improvement.

"We're better but not there," he said. "We sit down and look at it and talk about it. I don't think it's any one thing. I think it's a combination where all of us need to step up. The drivers need to step up, the crew chiefs need to step up, the cars need to be stepped up.

"It would take only a little from everybody. If that was all done, it would be a big change overall. If it was one thing, it would be easy to fix. It's going to take everybody to chip in just a little bit."
 
Day 4 recap
 
Started: Midland, Texas.
Finished: Austin, Texas.
Miles traveled: 344.

Notes: Tuesday's ride route ran through the heart of Texas oil country, with oil wells dotting the scenery. Overnight was in Austin, one of the nation's musical capitals. Non-motorcycle-related fun was anticipated. ?  Austin Petty, Kyle's son and the chief operating officer of the Victory Junction Gang Camp, joined the ride Tuesday, along with his sister, Montgomery Schlappi.

Wednesday's route: Austin, Texas to Waller, Texas to Beaumont, Texas.

Donate: The Kyle Petty Charity Ride raises money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a summer camp for chronically ill children. To donate, victoryjunction.org.

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Day 4 recap
 
Started: Midland, Texas.
Finished: Austin, Texas.
Miles traveled: 344.

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