RANDLEMAN, N.C. - "They're about half-crazy."
The King couldn't help but joke when asked about the
common traits found in both NASCAR drivers and PBR riders, but
after a sarcastic laugh he got serious.
"It's a test of your courage, of your ability and all that kind of stuff," Richard Petty said. "That's the challenge."
He added, "The majority of the guys who do this are just your regular, everyday guys. They're not real low people or they're not real high people. They're in the middle. This is what America is. From that standpoint they appreciate what they've got. They work hard for it."
Sure most people have a driver's license, but the majority of those who get behind the wheel of a family car have no idea what it's like to circle a race track within inches of another car at nearly 200 miles per hour for in upward of 500 miles at a time.
And just as people recognize the iconic image of a cowboy and appreciate the honor of the longstanding traditions associated with the western way of life, most people have no idea what it's like to sit atop a 2,000-pound bull much less nod their head for the gate.
According to Petty, who was the Cup Series champion seven times, avid fans of both sports and casual observers relate to race car drivers and bull riders alike out of respect and appreciation.
"It's one of those deals where, 'I wish I could do that' or 'I'd like to do that,'" he explained. "They respect those people for having the nerve and the guts and the ability to be able to do it."
As for the fan base of both NASCAR and the PBR, Petty's son, Kyle, a 30-year veteran who retired in 2008, said there are "so many parallels."
"It's blue-collar," Kyle said. "It's middle America. It's the guy who puts in his 9-to-5 or 7-to-5 every day. It's the guy who goes to work and tries to fend for his family. It's all the same. The same fan who's going to watch these guys ride bulls is the same fan who's going to show up in Martinsville, (Va.), and watch a race or show up in Daytona, (Fla.), and watch a race. I think when you look at it, it's all the same group."
Kyle was born in Randleman, N.C., the same hometown as Brian Canter.
In fact, Canter along with J.B. Mauney and PBR co-founder Jerome Davis all live and own land between Charlotte and Winston-Salem, N.C., which is also known as a central hub for several NASCAR teams including Richard Petty Motorsports, which is located in nearby Concord.
"The same fan who's going to watch these guys ride bulls is the same fan who's going to show up in Martinsville, (Va.), and watch a race or show up in Daytona, (Fla.), and watch a race."
The elder Petty said that much like bull riding, driving a race car typically begins as a hobby at a young age.
While would-be drivers and riders are always competitive ― even as amateurs ― he said it goes from "thinking they can" to "knowing they can" ride bulls or drive race cars alongside the best in the world.
"Then you get a little bit better," he explained, "and you say, 'OK, if I can do that maybe I can turn professional.'"
NASCAR experienced meteoric growth beginning in the mid-1990s at the same time in which 20 co-founders pooled together a $20,000 investment to form the PBR as a standalone sport.
While bull riding was experiencing unprecedented growth outside of the western world, NASCAR, which was founded in 1948, began to reach well beyond its traditional Southeastern footprint and became a major player alongside the likes of the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Its popularity even eclipsed that of the NHL.
Both Pettys attributed the success to expanded television exposure.
The elder Petty said the grandstands were already full by that time and that the TV contracts "took us to Oshkosh, Wis., or somewhere in Washington or Oregon, where we don't race and it's the same way with the bull riding crowd.
"It's about TV. You get that and you go to the next step," Richard said.
As the PBR prepares for its 20th season, Petty, who has been attending bull riding events since back when drivers and bull riders shared sponsors, sees a bright future for the PBR.
However, he never did think about climbing in the bucking chute.
"I'm OK in a race car," Petty, 75, said, "but riding a bull? No way."
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