BUZ McKIM WAS SITTING IN A ROOM AT THE original Petty Enterprises in Randleman, N.C., in early 2008, sorting through mounds of memorabilia, when he came across a letter dated 1956 that belonged to the organization's founder, Lee Petty. The letter was from then NASCAR vice president Pat Purcell.
"Pat was asking Lee to settle down a little bit because he was getting complaints that Lee was running too hard and that he was bouncing off too many drivers," says McKim, a NASCAR history buff and public relations veteran who in March 2007 signed on to become the first official historian of NASCAR's Hall of Fame. McKim found it amusing that Petty had framed the letter. "I guess he was kind of giving himself a little pat on the back."
McKim has come across thousands of artifacts and stories through his research and what he calls "detective work" in gathering material for the exhibitions at the 150,000-square-foot, $195 million facility, which opened last May. The museum, which is owned by the city of Charlotte, embraces racing's rough early history—even displaying a moonshine still built by former champion (and former moonshine runner) Junior Johnson. "We had trouble figuring out how to put the still together," says McKim. "We called Junior and asked him, and he said, 'Aw heck, I'll just come down there and do it for you.' "
Fifty-five years after Johnson won his first race and 63 years after Bill France Sr. called that momentous inaugural meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, NASCAR's rich tradition finally has a home all its own.