Jim Petty may now be known as the executive director of BlackTop Nationals, but he’s had a role that he’s been better known for going on almost 30 years: Santa Claus.
Petty was at a soap box derby meeting in 1985 when the person who was supposed to play Santa didn’t show. That started a new hobby for Petty, and it has turned into a side job, too.
How serious is Petty? Look up Kris Kringle in the Wichita phone book, and the number rings to his phone. Petty points out that the last four digits of his number – 686-4646 – spell “ho-ho.” The phone works for his day job, too, since 4646 also spells “go-go.”
Petty spent the better part of three decades working in the photographic world, mostly with Douglas Photographic Imaging.
He’s always been interested in cars, though.
“I came from a little different perspective than most car guys,” Petty said. “I grew up in garages around Wichita. My dad started racing the year I was born.”
Petty, too, used to race motorcycles.
“A few broken bones … took care of that desire.”
Petty generally handled public relations for his family’s racing team, which included his nephew.
He also volunteered for BlackTop Nationals when Rick Nuckolls and some friends started the car show in 2010.
“Evidently they must have liked what I was doing,” Petty said.
He said his biggest hurdle now is “making everything work on the financial side of things.”
“My goal is to make it bigger and better and bring more people to Wichita … with people bringing their dollars to Wichita,” Petty said.
“What I like about it most is the people. I love to go to car shows and talking to people. Seeing cars is kind of secondary. … Car guys are kind of a breed of their own. … They’ve all got interesting stories. They’re all fascinating people.”
Q. What would your dream BlackTop Nationals show be?
A. You know, we’re very close to the dream show right now. … I guess my dream show would be to have more of the local show cars come. … There’s lots and lots of show cars around Wichita that we’re not seeing.
Q. What was your reaction when someone asked you to step into the Santa suit?
A. I declined at first. It was a little intimidating. That’s Santa Claus. I’m just Jim Petty. … But I got talked into it and realized very quickly I had a knack for it. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the kids, so I went out and got my own suit … and haven’t looked back. I’ve worn out several suits since then.
Q. You get paid for some jobs and volunteer for others. Why do it?
A. The kids. The kids are great. They bring as much happiness to me as I think I’m probably bringing to them.
Q. What would the real Santa think?
A. I think the real Santa would be pleased at what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. … I found out that a routine does not work for me. … I just open my mouth and stuff comes out, and everything turns out fine.
Q. What’s one thing few people know about you?
A. I once snuck onto an airplane bound for Taiwan without a passport or visa. I was in Japan at the time. It was just an opportunity that came up … so I thought, “Well, this is an opportunity to go to another country.” … We were taxiing to the runway when they started checking everybody’s paperwork, so they taxied back, and they kicked me off. … So as you can see, I have an adventurous spirit.