Petty hunts, mingles in Regent
REGENT -- When Matthew Mueller saw Richard Petty walking through the Cannonball Saloon on Sunday afternoon, his jaw dropped. No one had any problem knowing what the 31-year-old mentally disabled man, who has difficulty with motor functions and ex...
REGENT -- When Matthew Mueller saw Richard Petty walking through the Cannonball Saloon on Sunday afternoon, his jaw dropped.
No one had any problem knowing what the 31-year-old mentally disabled man, who has difficulty with motor functions and expressing his words, was thinking as a look of amazement filled his eyes when the NASCAR legend knelt down and spoke to him.
"That was something I will remember for a lifetime and something I'm sure he (Matthew) will too," Sherry Mueller, Matthew's mother, said of the experience. "I don't know how much more excited he could have been."
Petty, along with a group of eight friends, came to Regent for the second consecutive year to hunt pheasants. He said speaking with fans, especially those like Matthew, is near to his heart.
"When you see people like that, that you're so much more fortunate than them, you should take time to say 'hey' to them," said Petty, NASCAR's all-time wins leader.
Petty has been involved with helping the handicapped and disabled for years.
The 70-year-old helped his son, NASCAR racer Kyle Petty, found the Victory Junction Gang Camp in North Carolina in 2004. The camp caters to children between ages 7 and 15 who cannot attend regular camps for various reasons.
Along with Mueller, Petty and his entourage mingled with Regent citizens and hunters in town for the pheasant season opener.
The six-time Daytona 500 winner said he enjoys speaking with fans and signing autographs, especially in towns like Regent.
"You've got to figure the fans are what made Richard Petty," he said. "Without the fans, I'd probably still be farming in North Carolina. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my career. That's what it takes to make it work."
Petty and his crew hunted on lands provided by the Cannonball Company in Regent on Sunday and Monday before heading back to North Carolina.
However, they almost didn't make it in time to hunt on Sunday afternoon. After leaving the Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., site of the Bank of America 500 late Sunday night, Petty and his crew boarded a plane headed for Dickinson.
However, early morning fog forced the plane to land in Bismarck, cutting their expected hunt time in half.The Cannonball Company guided the hunters on lands northeast of Regent for more than an hour Sunday. In that time, Petty believes each hunter reached his limit of pheasants.
"I think you could just point the gun in the air and shoot and you were going to get something," Petty said.
Pat Candrian, manager of the Cannonball Company, said it's a treat to have a celebrity such as Petty hunt in Regent.
"He's just a gentleman," Candrian said. "He's the kind of guy who will take time for anybody and everybody."Petty left Regent on Monday and headed home to prepare for the Subway 500 race in Martinsville, Va.
Kyle Petty and Bobby Labonte both race for Petty Enterprises. Labonte finished just shy of the Chase for the Nextel Cup this season. With less than a three-month break between seasons, Petty said the team's work is never done.
"We started building Cars of Tomorrow," Petty said. "We're working for next year trying to line up all the motor stuff for it, the front end, the chassis, the people."
At the end of the day in Regent, Petty made time for nearly everyone who wanted to talk to him or simply say hello and grab quick autograph.
He gave Matthew Mueller a special goodbye by signing a life-size cutout of himself the Mueller's have had for years.
"That's pretty awesome that somebody of that caliber to come to small-town North Dakota and take the time," Sherry Mueller said.