Petty’s Garage Spring Fling: Superbird, Legacy, and Greg Steadman Interview
Jessie and David Eustice attended the Petty’s Garage Spring Fling, at which the Legacy by Petty — a one-off convertible — made its long-awaited debut alongside the Petty Superbird.
Will you make any more of the Legacy by Pettys?
The convertibles, yes, if someone wants one, we can produce another one. ... [The convertible] is about the best you can do with an aftermarket conversion. It is not an OEM conversion because they just can't design it in the car but the quality of the worksmanship and the design of the vehicle with the quarter glass and everything works, I mean it's right. If you're looking for a convertible Challenger, they're [Droptop Customs] the place to go.
How does the Petty Superbird differ from the Superbird that was making the rounds last year?
That one was from HPP; the same company is doing the nose and tail that we do on our cars, and they actually facilitate that with them, we did it as a joint venture. We have some particular branding that we do on the cars, and our styling on the wheels and the tires and the brake are different than the styling that they had on their cars. So Petty is a limited edition built here at our shop, so it sets itself apart that way.
But you could do more if people wanted them.
What were the major challenges?
For us, not many. HPP did most of that legwork before, and that's why when they asked us about doing them, well, we had quite a few customers asking abou that, are you going to do something, so we started a conversation with those guys, probably six months ago, and just worked our way through it, but they did all the legwork on that part, they got the mods, they got the fins, and the designs and all that, so for us it was pretty seemless.
The base package for the Superbird I believe is $39,000, you have to supply your base car, it can be an R/T, it can be an SRT, it can have any options you want on it, we can spec it out, and the base package includes wheels, tires, brakes, exhaust, some different interior parts and badging, then you can option different engines, you can option different interior pieces and seating, so you can go anywhere from $70,000 total package all the way to $125,000, probably, depending on what you want to spend on it. That's a nice range of products.
Is it more aerodynamic than the standard Challenger?
I would say yes, but the standard Challenger's pretty boxy. A great car, though, you know, from the styling perspective, and it does great on the track even in the nationwide series, with the body design it has. So it's a great car, the Superbird's definitely going to be less drag, so I think there's a guy right now who's going to run 200 mph in the Texas mile in a couple of weeks.
What are your major challenges at Petty's Garage?
Getting the word out, we've been going at it for the past year, and we made sure we learned everything we needed to know before we started to push it out, but right now we've got a good team of technicians that understand the car, have a good relationship and the know-how in the shop, how we're going to flow everything from the body shop to the fabrication areas to the build area, so we've turned from building race cars into building street cars. We've got a new system for that now, we've got the guys in there, so we're ready to turn out anything and everything.
How have your challenges changed since being a NASCAR crew chief?
Don't have to deal with a driver, still got to deal with the car , from a handling perspective, handling, brakes, setup, design, parts and pieces, a lot of that is very similar; of course we're sales people now, we have to sell and promote the product, but from a NASCAR perspective, the biggest thing is we're not racing on Sunday with them. You know, we do events with drag cars, and we do events with others, so a lot of that comes right back to it, providing assistance to these guys that race. So there's a lot of similarities.
Is it a little easier on your nerves?
Operating any business is not easy on nerves...it's just different type of it... but we work hard at making sure our cars are top of the line out there, so when you put that much effort into what you do, it's a lot of work and a lot of pressure involved in making sure you turn that out.
What's it like to work with a legend, does it help or interfere?
No, no, he's great, I've worked with Richard for 15 years, and he's helped us a lot, his attention to detail, his same qualities, that's what we put in our work and our builds, he's a perfectionist, he demands the best, and that's great from a company standpoint, because when you turn that out, and you don't have issues, he's excellent, he comes through here every day he's in town he'll come through and look through all the projects, see what's going on, give us a little feedback and advice, and go see what we can do down there with the guys from race team.
Has working with him changed much over the years?
No, he's consistent. He's the same.
How's the Challenger program going, how many have you modified?
We modify them mainly for customers, pre-owned vehicles, just probably 25 or 30 total Challengers, some Chargers, worked on a few Chrysler 300s, some Dodge trucks, so we've done a little bit of everything, we've supercharged a truck, a lot of Challengers, so it's given the guys in the shop a lot of experience on how to work on these types of vehicles, and they know what the parts are, and what the sizes of the wrenches are and everything now, so it's a good deal.
Bonnie from Droptop Customs said the conversion did not hurt stability: “... we do a lot of understructure reinforcement before we ever do anything to the car. They took one of our cars out the track for time trials, and had no problems with the stability of the car. We reinforce it behind the back seat, in the trunk, underneath it. So we have no problems with that, I think in some ways it's actually stronger because of the bracing. We use 1x2 steel tubing, welded all the way down to the sides of the car underneath.”
There were some 100 cars at the Spring Fling Car Show, from as far away as Illinois, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and New York. Each participant received a Legacy by Petty poster and a show plaque. The $20 entry fee supported the Petty Family Foundation and the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
R.W. (Bob) O’Gorman, ALI president and owner of Legacy by Petty, took a moment to thank the team at Petty’s Garage and other key contributors to the Legacy build, including artist Mickey Harris and Pfaff Designs. He praised the hardcore Petty fans and car collectors who came out to the event in spite of a massive storm that ended only minutes before the gates opened. O’Gorman said he was especially amazed by the dedication of one 1970 Superbird owner who drove that classic vehicle through the storm all the way from Virginia just to be part of the show.
O’Gorman introduced Mike Robertson, North Carolina motor vehicles commissioner. Robertson presented Petty with a unique shadow-box-style plaque featuring photos of key moments from his 200th NASCAR win in 1984 through the Legacy build, a certificate signed and sealed by Robertson and O’Gorman, and the first in a series of four commemorative license plates. The plate, which reads “200 WINS,” was commissioned by ALI for Petty. Robertson had four of the plates printed in the state’s historical license plate stamping area using vintage 1984 blanks. The second plate in the series was installed on Legacy by Petty. The third was presented to Steadman. Petty signed the fourth and returned it to Robertson.
Robertson entertained the crowd with the story behind the commissioning of the license plates, which started with a phone call from a “crazy Yankee.” But, Robertson said, as he listened to O’Gorman’s request, he decided that he wasn’t so crazy after all. The crowd roared as Robertson shook Petty’s hand, stating: “It has been a pleasure to be involved by ALI in honoring you, Richard. Congratulations, sir—North Carolina loves you!”
“We’ve gotten some amazing honors, but this is something really different,” Petty said. “We thank you, commissioner, and our friends at ALI for going through all this trouble.”
Robertson also surprised O’Gorman with a 2011 North Carolina “200 WINS” license plate. This plate is registered to the trailer that will be used to carry Legacy by Petty to car shows and other events around the country. “By registering the plate to the trailer that ALI will use, we’ve put ‘200 WINS’ in the DMV system to preserve the integrity of the commemorative plates, while keeping the right to use that plate ‘in the family,’” Robertson said.
One of the things that makes Legacy by Petty special is the amazing handiwork of renowned airbrush artist Mickey Harris. Harris told the crowd that he was so inspired by the project that he returned to his studio to paint a portrait that would honor the Legacy by Petty car and The King himself. He presented that portrait, “Red, White and … Petty Blue” to Petty at the ceremony.
“In my 35 years as an artist, I’ve worked on art restoration for some of America’s greatest pieces at the Pentagon and some amazing vehicles, such as GM’s America’s Pride Camaro,” he said. “But today I confess that perhaps one of the greatest experiences of my entire career has been to be selected by Mr. O’Gorman to represent ALI and his interest in telling Mr. Petty’s story here on the Legacy tribute Challenger.”
Petty told the crowd, “This beautiful and amazing piece will go immediately to the Richard Petty Museum, forever to be shared with the greatest fans that ever were.”
At last, it was time to pull the custom cover off of Legacy by Petty. The crowd responded instantly once the trademark Petty Blue metallic paint was visible. It’s the details that make this car a true testament to Petty: Harris spent more than 156 hours illustrating Petty’s unparalleled racing career through freehand paintings on both sides of the Challenger. Inside, the leather upholstery by Katzkin matches The King’s crocodile skin boots. And in the backseat, one of Petty’s signed and numbered Charlie One hats hangs on a special display stand.
Once the car was revealed, The King applied the final touch, autographing the Challenger’s odometer cluster in front of the crowd.
In addition to honoring Petty and representing Petty’s Garage, the car also will be used to promote vehicle lift safety as it travels to events around the country. The vehicle features the ALI website URL, www.autolift.org, under each door opening. A DVD player and flat screen TV in the trunk will be used to show both the iconic movie Petty Blue and excerpts from Lifting It Right, a DVD hosted by Richard and Kyle Petty for ALI that is focused on safely using vehicle lifts.
As news teams stood side-by-side with fans and car collectors, Petty and Steadman recalled the start of the Legacy by Petty tribute project back in November 2009 at a Las Vegas dinner attended by representatives of ALI and Petty’s Garage.
“You see, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas!” Petty joked. “This car is proof of something good and highly detailed that can happen when partners set out to look after the interests of each other.”
Steadman noted that in addition to promoting the Petty legacy and the Petty partnership for automotive lift safety, the Legacy by Petty car was built to be driven.
“This is truly something special,” he said. “Not only do we have Mickey’s hand-laid artwork and a totally new technology that creates an ‘ice blue’ old-school flame that can only be seen in the dark, we also have a unique Petty Blue base with micro-fleck in a BAF RM finish that is guaranteed for life.
“The Legacy by Petty tribute Challenger has a specially modified 426 Hemi and custom exhaust which puts power to the 3:91 rear end,” he continued. “We matched the car with a special Petters/Petty suspension and those big, monster Brembos. We built this car so that if put to the test, it will definitely perform.”
“This inaugural event allows fans and car enthusiasts to walk the grounds where it all started for Petty race fans,” said Greg Steadman, general manager of Petty’s Garage, the high-performance speed shop located in the garages that were once home to Petty NASCAR teams. “For Petty’s Garage and our partners, the event allows us to show off innovations and cutting-edge products associated with builds such as Legacy by Petty, the new WIX Filters Dodge Challenger, and the Petty Superbird.”
To wrap up the program, Doug Grunnet, ALI chairman, presented the Petty Family Foundation with a check and announced that ALI, in cooperation with its member companies, has committed to sponsoring the Spring Fling Car Show at Petty’s Garage annually through 2014. A date for the 2012 event will be announced later.
“There are some amazing cars here today,” Grunnet said. “I’m not only talking about the new Petty Superbird, the WIX car, and ALI’s Legacy by Petty, but also the cars that came from near and far to participate in the show. Today’s presentations and Mickey’s artwork make me proud to be in Randleman, N.C. Walking the show earlier with Bob, Greg and Richard took me back to my days as a younger man, and seeing such a wide variety of muscle cars and hot rods, representing so many enthusiasts, quite simply makes me proud to be an American.”
Jessie Eustice ran into Robert Jones at the Spring Fling show. He said:
I do a little car painting, I have a company called Stuart Shine, and we make car care products. I grew up in Detroit, I now live in Concord. My father worked for Chrysler, and he started out at Dodge Truck, worked there for a year, and then moved on and went to school, because he said he wasn't going to remain a factory worker for the rest of his life, so he became an accountant; he retired in 1974 when they got the first bailout. He was in accounts receivable, and he worked real closely with Mopar Parts and used to run between Highland Park and Center Line, which is where Mopar Parts is located. I saw cars that I probably should have never seen, because he would go down in the executive garage, and he would bring stuff by the house because it was on his way to Center Line. I saw a Dodge Demon in 1969... (they came out in 1971). His name was Walter Jones.
I worked for Chrysler for a couple of years, I was in PR, back in the 70s. It was a fun job. I went all over the country, took cars to shows like this, took cars to different automotive writers for them to do articles.
You have a beautiful car here.
That was actually mine. That's a Dodge Neon [SRT4]. I love it. I love the new technology. I'm a classic car guy but I love the new technology. I can have a 250 horsepower car and I get 30 miles per gallon. It's a four cylinder, front wheel drive, turbocharged. They built these from 2003 to 2005, then they stopped building the Neon, they came out with the Caliber instead. They went after the Scion market, that was the wrong market to go after, I think, I don't think they had real great sales of them, but it is what it is.
For Spring Fling Car Show and Legacy by Petty photos, a schedule of upcoming Legacy by Petty appearances and more information about ALI, visit the Institute on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LiftInstitute or call (607) 756-7775. You can also find ALI on Twitter, www.twitter.com/LiftInstitute and YouTube, www.youtube.com/LiftInstitute. For more information about Petty’s Garage, visit www.pettys-garage.com, www.facebook.com/pettysgarage, www.twitter.com/pettysgarage, or call (336) 498-3745.