FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — DRESSED in blue jeans, a huge feathered cowboy hat, and dark wraparound sunglasses, former stock car racer Richard Petty doesn't look like your typical politician.
He isn't. Mr. Petty became a legend among racing fans by winning a record 200 events during his 25-year career.
Now Petty wants to use his fame and down-home personality to draw votes. He is the Republican candidate for the office of North Carolina's secretary of state, which issues business licenses and enforces securities laws.
He declared his candidacy in January and invitations to his campaign kickoff featured a picture of him in his racing uniform and the words "The Race is On!"
"I think [voters] look at Richard Petty as being their buddy," he says. "Hopefully that will carry over to the election."
Strategists for the state's GOP hope that having Petty on the ballot could expand its appeal to moderate swing voters and help the Republican ticket in the November election.
While Republicans control the North Carolina House of Representatives, no Republican candidate has been elected to the state's most powerful statewide offices, including governor, attorney general, agriculture secretary, and secretary of state.
Despite his celebrity status, Petty insists he's qualified for the job, having been a county commissioner for 16 years. "I'm also a successful businessman and I think people will like that," Petty says. His businesses, including a racing team, earned $8 million to $10 million last year.
Petty admits that he's still learning what the secretary of state does and can't say what he will do if he's elected.
"I've been reading everything I can get my hands on, trying to figure out what they do, but I really won't know for sure until I get there and see it for myself," Petty says.