Note: A story from the Winston Cup Preview in the early 20th century. It was written for the Winston-Salem Journal.
YOUNGSTER STILL GETS AROUND
By Tom Gillispie
Special to the Journal
Peter Franson gets around, walker or no walker.
While thousands of his fellow fans were trying to get autographs yesterday at the Winston Cup Preview at Joel Coliseum, Peter and his father, Jon, of Mebane were checking out the cars in the Coliseum Annex.
Peter, 8, would leave his walker outside and climb inside the one car with a door, the No. 7 show car for the Jimmy Spencer team. With a friendly photographer in tow, he’d slide in and out of the seats, grinning ear to ear. Cameras would snap, and he’d check out another car, especially the No. 97 of Roush Racing and Kurt Busch.
Peter is a veteran of the racing world. Sam Wilson, a friend of Jon Franson, invited Peter to be the poster boy for Fairlane Acres Speedway, a go-kart track in Dover, Del. Then a friend of Wilson’s, Roush show-car driver Jeff Isom, drove the Roush Racing show-car of Mark Martin to Mebane.
Peter, who was born with spina bifida, an open spinal column, had just undergone hip surgery.
During the visit, a Roush fan was born.
“He parked the Mark Martin car on the road where we live in Mebane, and Peter was sitting on the porch wearing full leg casts,” said Franson, who carries mail for the postal service in Chapel Hill. “The No. 6 car drove up, and he got to sit in it, and now he roots for all of the Roush cars.”
In the Annex, the Busch car was sitting beside another Roush Racing entry, Matt Kenseth’s No. 17, and the No. 6 Martin car was in the next row. But Peter was concentrating on the red-and-silver Busch Ford and the blue-and-white Spencer Dodge.
Spencer doesn’t drive for Roush, but the easy opening door made the car mighty appealing. Again and again, he gleefully got in, inviting onlookers to join him.
Peter’s involvement with racing goes even further. He sang the national anthem at his church, and the song was recorded. Since Peter was the poster boy for Fairlane Acres last year, Wilson played Peter’s rendition each week. Jon Franson said it was a good version.
“He has perfect pitch,” the father said proudly.
Through Wilson, the Fransons also got to know the Petty family, and that led to the family’s support of Kyle Petty’s Victory Junction Gang. The VJG camp, which is scheduled to open next year in Randleman, is for children with special problems, and Franson said he hopes to take Peter there next year.
But that’s not all. Franson said that Peter will be a poster boy for the Victory Junction Gang, and his VJG advertisement with Winston Cup star Bobby Labonte will appear on television early in the 2003 season.
And watch out for Busch and Spencer this year, because Peter may have the magic touch. A few weeks after he sat in the Mark Martin show car, Martin won at Charlotte. Then when he sat in Busch’s Cup car last year, Busch won at Bristol.
“What’s your favorite number?” Peter was asked.
He replied shyly, “97.” He grinned broadly.
Franson said that the neurosurgery and therapy have helped his son, and Peter had no problems getting around and being sociable with the Preview crowd.
“He’s spent most of his life in hospitals, and most of his friends are doctors, nurses and physical therapists.”
The Fransons don’t know how much their son will improve. “All the surgery that can be done has been done,” Franson said.
But Peter doesn’t let it slow him down much when it comes to racing. The family plans to go to time trials at Martinsville, Rockingham and maybe Darlington.
If there’s a race car sitting idle somewhere, the young man from Mebane may jump in it.
And if it’s the 97, so much the better.
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