The King and I. In New Jersey?

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The King and I. In New Jersey?
Jason Smith/Getty Images

Here's why I like NASCAR.

On an early Sunday morning back in 1988, I was in Newark Airport awaiting a flight to visit a fraternity buddy of mine who was living in Savannah, Georgia. The airport was a ghost town.

While waiting in the terminal, I saw a man standing alone with his back against the wall and one leg bent; his foot along the wall (think cowboy leaning against a rail post).

He was wearing sunglasses, jeans with a large round western type belt buckle, and an impressive cowboy hat.

He looked like Richard Petty.

Like the Richard Petty you would have seen on television.

Just like it. Almost a caricature of himself.

I said to myself, "No way. It couldn't be. Not here, not now. With no one around?!" I had to go up to him; to say something.

"Excuse me, but are you Richard Petty?" I asked.

"Why yes I am, buddy."

"Seriously. Are you really Richard Petty?"

"Yeah, you bet. Now what's your name?" asked the King.

"Mike. My name's Mike. You're not going to believe this, but I'm on my way to see my best friend who is a huge fan. Would you give me an autograph for him?"

And Richard Petty, The King Himself, signed the only piece of paper I had on me.....My voter registration card.

I still have today.

"To Smitty (it says), Best Wishes, Richard Petty #43"

There was absolutely no pretense about him.

Totally real; totally courteous; totally a gentleman.

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