As a fan of music and fan of all things North Carolina – I look forward each year to the release of the Homegrown Music series put together by Deep South Productions. This year, a name on our list for Heritage Circle performers stuck out – Kyle Petty. I know the name as a member of one of North Carolina’s pre-eminent racing families – but I didn’t know he played music.
Petty competed in more than 800 races in his 31-year career, posting 173 top ten finishes and eight wins. He was named NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year in 1998 and 2000. Since retiring from racing, he’s worked as a commentator, most recently for NBC Sports. This year Petty also celebrated the 25th anniversary of his charity Ride Across America, which has raised $8.5 million for Victory Junction and other charities that support chronically ill children.
On Tuesday, Oct. 22, Petty will join singer/songwriter and folk icon David Childers from Mount Holly for five shows in Heritage Circle. The two were introduced by Dolphus Ramseur, general manager of the Avett Brothers. “Childers and I have played about 15 shows together,” Petty said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We have a relaxed, laid-back show. We sing a little, talk a little – it’s a songwriters round.”
Petty grew up playing music. He learned guitar at 12, and would always bring it along to the racetrack. He also played the saxophone in high school. “In the 1980’s I got a little more into music and signed with RCA Records,” Petty said. “I opened for Randy Travis, Hank Jr. and others, but at the time I was more serious about racing a car than music. Now, I am more serious about my music.” Petty’s musical influences include Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Billy Crash Craddock, James Taylor and Doc Watson.
He’s quick to point out the stage is a little more forgiving than the racetrack. “When I messed up in my racecar, it usually ended up as an ambulance ride, if you mess up on stage its not as bad.”
Petty is a third generation NASCAR driver from Randleman and won his first race in 1979. His family has deep ties to the state fairgrounds.
His dad, Richard Petty, won the last NASCAR race held on a dirt track at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh in 1970. The half-mile State Fairgrounds race track only saw three NASCAR events in its history. The Sam Rand Grandstand remains and sections of the track are used for the demolition derby and tractor pull, but racing went to bigger and paved tracks.
Kyle Petty does not recall seeing his dad race on the fairgrounds track. “The fair was a tradition for my family,” Petty said. “Growing up we would come every year and I would love the Joie Chitwood Thrill Show and the Jack Kochman Hell Drivers. My parents also purchased their kitchen table and hutch on a visit to the State Fair. It was from a crafter who lived in the mountains.
“It was important for me to make the fair a tradition with my wife Morgan and son, Overton,” he added. “We go every year to see the animals, eat food and watch some shows.” Petty always makes room for the ham biscuits at the United Methodist restaurant.
Kyle Petty and David Childers will perform on the Heritage Circle stage on Tuesday, Oct. 22 at 10 a.m., noon, 2, 4 and 6 p.m.