MACON — Richard Petty wasted no time making a prediction about Tony Stewart’s performance in his annual race at Macon Speedway.
“He’ll show his butt like he always does,” Petty said as Stewart chuckled.
Petty doesn’t pretend to root for his rival team owner, but the two did team up to make Thursday’s NASCAR Night of Stars probably the most memorable in the series since Stewart, promoter Bob Sargent and drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace purchased the track and began making appearances there in 2007.
The two, along with Schrader and Wallace, signed autographs from 5 p.m. until the line ran out at around 6:40 — well longer than the scheduled hour.
Afterward, Stewart, Schrader and Wallace headed to the track and Petty served as the Grand Marshal before boarding his plane and heading back to Michigan. In the Modifieds race, Schrader finished second, Wallace was sixth and Stewart came in 13th.
Autograph seekers formed a line that began at five rows snaking through barriers. There were people with posters, jackets, ball caps, cowboy hats, helmets, shirts and calendars to get signed. There was a wheel, a guy with a tire and a woman with a Macon Speedway racing suit. And then there was 35-year-old Chris Moski of Rockford, who was lugging around the front end of a Stewart race car he had bought online.
“I’ve had it for almost a year, and I’ve been looking forward to getting it signed,” Moski said. “I came here a couple years ago to get his autograph, but it got rained out. This is the first time I’ve actually bought something off the Internet and had it signed.”
Another man, Wayne County Speedway driver David Parker of Wayne City, walked into the line empty-handed, then took his shirt off as he approached the table and had each of the NASCAR drivers sign it. Afterward, he put it back on.
“That was the plan all along,” Parker said. “The head scorekeeper here is training my wife on the computer scoring we’re getting at our track, so she invited us up for this. When I saw who was here, I said, ‘Oh, heck yeah.’ ”
Petty said it’s important for NASCAR to remember its history, which is why he still makes appearances at venues like Macon Speedway.
“This is real grassroots racing, and without it, there would never have been cup racing,” Petty said. “Cup racing started off as grassroots racing. We finally outgrew this, but we still need this to make it all work.
“And then you see the dedication of the fans out here — lined up since 2 o’clock to get his autograph (pointing to Stewart)? These are hardcore fans. It makes you feel good that what you did for a number of years gave you a good living, but also that other people enjoyed it as much as you did.”
The 75-year-old Petty said during his racing days, he preferred dirt tracks to NASCAR.
“The driver means so much in a car on dirt, where in NASCAR, if the car don’t stick, it don’t stick,” Petty said. “It’s just more fun.
“Every once in awhile I wish I was still out there. Then they bring one in on a wrecker, and I say, ‘See, that’s the reason I’m not out there.’ ”
Thursday was Petty’s first time at Macon Speedway. Stewart, who was making his seventh appearance in Macon, said he feels a sense of pride when he sees the stands packed at the tiny dirt track.
“It’s a cool scenario where we got to save a race track that was getting ready to shut down,” Stewart said. “We were able to keep it going.
“And then to be here sitting next to Richard Petty — we’re all fortunate to do what we do as NASCAR drivers and it’s because of guys like Richard. It’s a pretty big honor to have him at Macon tonight.”