The NASCAR racer-turned-statewide candidate is accused of repeatedly bumping a car on I-85 and leaving the scene.

-----------

Secretary of State candidate Richard Petty, known to voters for a fast-lane NASCAR career, was charged this week with hit-and-run and reckless driving after a minor collision on Interstate 85.

The retired racer, who threw in the checkered flags in 1992 and is now making a bid for a full-time political career, was accused of repeatedly bumping the rear of a car he was trying to pass in the left lane of the interstate and then leaving the scene of the incident, according to a Highway Patrol report.Though Petty's attorney argued that there were no injuries and minimal damage to the car Petty is accused of bumping Sept. 11, the Level Cross Republican was charged Tuesday with hit-and-run property damage and careless and reckless driving, both misdemeanor violations.

The driver Petty is charged with hitting, Oak Ridge resident James Rassette, declined to comment on the incident. However, the Highway Patrol captain overseeing the investigation said that Rassette's statement suggested that Petty had intentionally bumped his car.

``Mr. Rassette claimed he struck him more than one time, more like three or four times,' said Capt. H.M. Overcash, the Salisbury area troop commander. ``My assumption was he (Rassette) thought it was an intentional act.'

Petty could not be reached for comment, and his campaign referred questions to his attorney.

``It was just an unavoidable thing. It could happen to anyone,' said Tom Grady, Petty's attorney. ``We have not asked for any special treatment.'

The investigation was finished this week after Petty returned from a Delaware race.

Renee Hoffman of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety summarized the report this way:

Rassette was driving his Mazda north on I-85 from Charlotte at about 8:30 p.m. last Wednesday.

Near the Concord exit, a green pickup came up behind him and flashed its lights to pass.

Rassette, who had just passed another car, slowed down and tried to move out of the left lane.

At that point, the truck bumped him and kept going. After Rassette got into Davidson County he flagged down a trooper, described the truck and gave the license number. The trooper pulled Petty over several miles up the road, took information from both drivers, and looked at Rassette's Mazda, finding little or no damage.

The trooper, who wrote that Rassette was going about 50 mph when Petty hit him, sent the case back to Cabarrus County district where the incident is said to have occurred.

Although Petty's lawyer downplayed the incident - and questioned whether the average driver would have stopped on the highway after bumping another car - the traffic court charges may offer Democrats a few free laps.

So far, the race for the largely ceremonial secretary of state's job has been viewed as being as unevenly matched as a tricycle against a Lamborghini.

Democrat Elaine Marshall, a political unknown, faces a candidate whose feathered cowboy hat, STP sunglasses and 200 racetrack wins have made him one of the most recognized and popular people in North Carolina.

A Lillington lawyer whose billboards proclaim her ``a serious candidate for a serious job,' Marshall passed up the chance to sideswipe the competition.

Marshall, campaigning Wednesday night in Reidsville, had little reaction to the story.

``It's something that's a court action, and that's something that will have to take its course,' said Marshall, who practices general law including traffic cases.

``It's just one more thing the voters will have to look at. It'll undoubtedly get some play.'

Both candidates were scheduled to campaign in Guilford County today.

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Load comments