RICHBURG -- My job is to interview people. So when 285 motorcycles on Kyle Petty's Maine-to-Florida ride for children's charities roared into a fuel pit stop at the Crenco gas station on S.C. 9 near Interstate 77 Wednesday afternoon, I took one for the team.
I sprinted past Petty the NASCAR driver, waved to Herschel Walker the football star, and searched for the supermodel.
Niki Taylor, over 6 feet tall.
There were so many helmets, motorcycles and onlookers getting autographs on caps still on their heads, or shirts still on chests, that I couldn't find the supermodel.
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I shamelessly told two gangly teenage boys that if they found the supermodel, I would put in a good word for them. One took the left flank of the crowd, the other took the right, and I plowed through the middle.
I started to panic, so I did what must be done: I asked the Skoal Bandit. Harry Gant, former NASCAR driver of the Skoal Bandit car and great guy, shook my hand, smiled at my stupid question and got some lady who knew the supermodel.
The lady walked me to Taylor, who loomed in the rear of the pack at a height of Teddy Roosevelt on Mount Rushmore.
"Need to talk to Niki, huh?" the lady asked me through a grin that said, "I've seen your type before, bub."
"Yeah, gotta interview the celebrities, tough part of the job," I told her. "But I'm willing to make that sacrifice."
I think I identified myself to Taylor, but my right hand shook so badly that my notes are chicken scratch. I'm sure I asked some lame questions, like "Do you like motorcycles?" and "I guess this is a worthy charity, this Victory Junction Camp for injured kids?"
The Chester County store was chosen because it sits between Randleman, N.C., where the camp is, and Wednesday night's finish in Augusta, Ga. I forgot to ask if Taylor had heard of Richburg before.
One question for sure was, "Uhh, sure is hot out here, huh?"
Niki talked for about 30 seconds. I have no idea what she said. I think she mentioned that she has ridden bikes for five years, she met Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, three years ago and the camp does great work. But she could have said my hair was on fire.
I know her mouth moved because I was staring at her face.
Me and about 30 other guys. Including truckers, NASCAR fans and the two teens who didn't find the supermodel for me and therefore received no introduction as my two best friends.
She stopped talking, and there was an awkward pause of two seconds or 30 minutes.
"Anything else?" she asked me politely.
I found my composure, which up until now had been in Georgia.
"No, but thank you," I said. "Have a safe trip."
I did run to talk with Herschel Walker, the legend who does all kind of charity work and is a collector of motorcycles. He rode a Suzuki nicknamed "Rosemary." Even though he's been out of football for years, Walker looked like he could run to Florida where the ride ends. After he ran through the wall of the gas station.
Because Petty has done this ride for 13 years and raised more than $9 million, I then followed him. Petty was worth it. Sure, he hasn't won a NASCAR race since Bill Clinton was president. Nobody cared. Certainly not me. People love this generous guy and his signature ponytail, and for 10 minutes, I was one of them.
Petty signed the wheelchair of 14-year-old Clint Dorsey and asked Clint with a wink, "What are you gonna do the rest of the day, chase girls?"
Clint immediately became the happiest kid in America, or at least in Richburg.
Except for two high school girls. Katie McClellan and Mandi Park, both 17, waited for more than an hour until the bikes showed up around 4:15. They came for one reason. They got their autographs from Kyle Petty.
They didn't flub their chance, either, although Park said, "I got weak in the knees."
Why, I asked.
"Because Kyle Petty is a stud muffin!" McClellan said.
"Hot!" Park said.
Then I remembered why I lost my panache with the supermodel.
Niki Taylor said she was riding Wednesday with her husband.
The motorcycles roared to life. They all drove off. The supermodel sat on the back of a motorcycle. Her husband drove. The gawkers, like me, said nothing.
The husband might have a name. I forgot to ask.