Richard Petty and Arnold Palmer have done more for their sports than anyone else I can think of. Petty is referred to as “The King” in NASCAR stock car racing and Arnold Palmer, who passed away just recently, was referred to as “The King” in professional golf. He was not the greatest golfer but he was the best at promoting the game of golf just as Richard Petty continues to be.
Several years back Pennzoil, thanks to Bob Kelly, was kind enough to invite some of the media that had covered the Daytona 500 to play golf the day after the race at Arnie’s Bay Hill course in Orlando, Fla. In fact it was something that happened every year for a few years and all of us looked forward to.
I had the opportunity to meet Arnie on a couple occasions. Each visit I wandered into the pro shop; twice Arnie was there. A firm handshake and some chit chat. He wished me well. With the way I played golf – I am no longer able – I needed all the good wishes I could get.
One time he came out to watch some of us tee off. That particular time I actually hit it straight down the fairway. It was probably the best, most challenging golf course I have played on and I have played some very good ones over the years.
The key point is that Arnie was a down-to-earth guy. He was one of the guys. He came across as being glad to see us there.
Many know that he was a spokesman for Pennzoil for years.
Just like Arnie, Richard Petty has been the kind of guy you could go have a beer with at the corner tavern. He seemed to have time for everyone with every request made of him. I can remember a couple of times having the opportunity to sit and chat with him. All were good memories except for the day we were standing at his shop and the Challenger exploded. That was one of the saddest days I can remember.
For fans getting an autograph from Richard was like getting a work of art. He still takes his time with the autographs. Fans can actually read them. It was the same with Arnold Palmer’s autograph. He was proud of the way he signed his name and often said that he wished others would sign their autographs so fan, when looking at it in the future, would be able to know whose autograph it was.
I feel bad that I never asked Arnie for his autograph. I have never been an autograph seeker. At least now since I have gotten older. I have a Richard Petty autograph on one his helmets given to me by my late, old friend Harvey Duck who handled PR work for him and also for STP. It sits on a shelf in my office.
Arnie brought professional golf into the sports limelight. He got the Champion’s Tour off the ground. He started the Golf Channel. And how many of you have asked for an Arnold Palmer drink? I love them.
Palmer was also the inventor of the athlete/celebrity/endorser. The late Mark McCormack, founder of International Management Group, and Palmer came up with the idea of athletes being product endorsers. And the story goes on. Those of you into marketing in motorsports would do well to find some of Mark McCormack’s books and read them. I have about six of them on my bookshelves.
So a couple weeks back, at age 87, Arnold Palmer passed away. A huge loss to golf and a huge loss to sports in general. Though my opportunities to meet him and talk with him were brief, I can remember them very clearly and I will continue to remember them.
Just like I wrote at the start Richard, and Arnold did made huge contributions to their sports. Arnold should be remembered and Richard should be appreciated.
Sports figures that scribble their autograph and hastily make their way past fans would have learned much from paying attention to how Arnold Palmer handled fans and how Richard Petty does handle fans.
* * *FS1 and NASCAR Productions will present the second season of the acclaimed documentary series Beyond the Wheel as part of FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub. Created to depict the sport’s most pivotal moments and compelling narratives, the short films focus on influential characters – both past and present – and the unique stories that have shaped NASCAR as a sport since its inception. The first film premieres on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m. ET during NASCAR Race Hub on FS1.
The second season of the documentary short film series is comprised of the following: Bonneville 71 details how NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bobby Isaac set 28 land speed records with a banned Dodge Charger Daytona on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1971, accompanied only by his crew members, a USAC official and a Chrysler engineer. Using the authentic No. 71 K&K Charger and featuring interviews with original crew members Buddy Parrott and Ken Troutt, the documentary pays homage to Isaac’s historical runs by revisiting the Salt Flats to shoot all-new footage down a 10-mile straightaway.
Sueños de NASCAR follows NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Daniel Suárez from his roots in Monterrey, Mexico, to his rise in one of the sport’s top series through the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. As Suárez returns home to visit family and friends, the film explores his place in Mexican racing culture, how the country has embraced stock car racing, and the impact of Mexican drivers on the future of the sport.
Miracle at Daytona – The Tiny Lund Story recounts how DeWayne “Tiny” Lund risked his life to rescue fellow driver, Marvin Panch, from his burning Maserati at Daytona International Speedway before going on to win the 1963 DAYTONA 500 just days later.
The second film in the series featuring Daniel Suárez will premiere on Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. ET, while the original special on Tiny Lund will air in early 2017.