Let's get this out of the way first.
Jeremy Petty is a race driver who needs money. Most do. For every Jimmie Johnson, there's a Jimmy so-and-so driving down in the ARCA circuit, or lower, whose dreams are just as big but whose bank account is just pretty pathetic.
Petty, who grew up in Salina and lives in Smolan, thinks he's on the verge of something big. But, well, he could sure use a winning lottery ticket. Or the kind of sponsorship the big boys don't have to worry about.
The 27-year-old Petty got his first chance to run in a NASCAR Truck Series event last Saturday in the cramped quarters at Darlington (S.C) Raceway and finished 17th out of 30. It was the thrill of a lifetime for a guy who grew up racing on dirt tracks in Kansas and whose passion as a teenager was baseball.
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Petty, though, didn't have much of a choice about becoming a driver. His grandfather and father have deep roots in the sport and he was driving fast before most kids learn where the gas tank is located.
"If you run stock cars, Darlington and Daytona — those are it,'' Petty said. "And for me, Darlington is even a bigger deal.''
It's the track his grandfather took him to regularly on their summer two- or three-week trips back east to watch races.
"To be able to be in my first NASCAR race there was pretty neat for me,'' Petty said.
But will there be a second?
Petty might have a chance to run at Las Vegas in the fall, but he needs — yes, money — first. He's crossing his fingers that a big sponsor might come aboard soon, but not taking anything for granted.
So far, Petty's race team, which really consists of mostly volunteers, is lean and mean. He's made it as far as he has thanks to contributions from the likes of Crosson Farms and C&R Plating out of Minneapolis and Salina Iron and Metal.
Last year, Petty finished 13th in ARCA (American Race Car Association) points and had a career-best 12th-place finish at Salem Speedway.
Times are improving, but times are still tough.
Petty lives in a small farm house "in the sticks" and struggles for cell-phone reception. So if you're expecting a call, understand it might be late.
"I've tried two different companies,'' Petty said. "But when I get to within about two miles of my house, my phone goes dead.''
But he wouldn't live anywhere else. He loves to fish and occasionally hunts. He likes the solitude of rural life.
"Nobody is going to bother you,'' said Petty, who is single. "The only negative is that sometimes people can't bother you with this cell phone problem.''
Petty's house was built in 1932 and he has refurbished the walls, floors and ceilings.
"It's a nice little farm house,'' he said. "I don't require much.''
Petty lived in his grandfather's camper during his early days in ARCA, so he's used to making do.
Petty's goal at Darlington was to do better than to make do, but not by much. He just wanted to keep his truck on the track the whole race.
"And to keep all four fenders on it,'' he said. "If I could get top 20, I was going to be happy.''
Drivers were allowed six sets of tires for the weekend and four sets for the race. Petty used only three sets because that's all he could afford. Tires are a dime a dozen to the big boys; to Petty they're gold.
"The whole financial thing, yeah, it's kind of a big deal,'' Petty said. "You're definitely at a disadvantage when you're racing against some of these other teams that are in the truck series. When you have a corporate sponsor, you know you're going to be able to get to the next race, you can hire people and you have good equipment.''
Petty, meanwhile, struggles just to buy new tires.
"We joke around that this is why my hair is falling out,'' he said. "But I'm going to have to put that one on my dad, really. Genetics.''
Petty, in case you're wondering (and everybody does), is not related to The King, Richard Petty, perhaps the greatest NASCAR driver of all-time. But they have met.
"He knows me, he knows that I'm the Petty from Kansas,'' Jeremy Petty said. "I've met him and I've met his son, Kyle. They're familiar with me. I don't have his cell number or anything like that, though.''
The Petty questions amuse Jeremy because there are so many. People see his last name and make assumptions.
"I get 20 questions a weekend, at least,'' he said. "Everybody wants to know.''
"I definitely get extra media attention because I'm racing stock cars and my last name is Petty," Jeremy said.
"Some people who don't know me might assume that I'm out there and that I'm related to Richard Petty and just riding his coat-tail, getting something handed to me.''
Jeremy Petty wants to make it clear that he's had nothing handed to him since he started down this racing road many years ago.
It's a struggle every day, but he won't be deterred.
"Trucks are something I've tried to shoot for since I started this,'' Petty said. "Maybe I'll make a home there and then who knows. You can climb the ladder from there.''
He might be operating on a shoestring budget, but you can't put a price on dreams.