About a year and a half ago, I didn’t even know who Richard Petty was. I met “The King” in June 2018 on a press trip in the “Heart of N.C.,” a region about 90 minutes northeast of Charlotte. The Heart of N.C. includes Randleman, where Petty lives and operates, among other things, a wedding venue called Reverie Place. When I saw his name on the itinerary for our Saturday dinner, I shrugged and focused on the meal—“barbecue, hushpuppies, baked beans … banana pudding, and sweet tea!”

Over dinner, that night, a lanky 6-foot-2 man in a black, feathered cowboy hat ambled over to the pavilion where I ate with a group of journalists and bloggers, Randleman town officials, and Petty’s two daughters, who manage the venue. A few people put down their banana pudding and went over to shake his hand or politely ask for a photograph. He didn’t say much, mostly just smiled and nodded at his guests. Eventually, I asked for a picture, too.