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NASCAR legend Richard Petty becomes seventh Republican to disavow endorsement

NASCAR legend Richard Petty is not endorsing Christian Castelli’s 2024 campaign, his family announced over the weekend.

In doing so, the King becomes the seventh Republican to withdraw an endorsement in North Carolina’s 6th Congressional District race.

Throughout the 2024 election cycle, Castelli’s campaign has been circulating a video of Petty calling Castelli “a leader who will fight for North Carolina values” and offering his “support” of Castelli.

But eagle-eyed watchers might have noticed that the video was first posted on Castelli’s YouTube channel on Aug. 23, 2022, well before Castelli lost the 2022 election to Rep. Kathy Manning, a Democrat from Greensboro.

And Petty’s family told McClatchy Monday the video was created for the 2022 cycle.

Rumors of an endorsement amiss

Castelli’s opponent, former Rep. Mark Walker, questioned the validity of Petty’s endorsement to McClatchy as far back as Jan. 26, while defending himself against his own false endorsement allegations.

The Castelli campaign said Petty endorsed twice in two different cycles. Around the same time, McClatchy also started looking into rumors that the Petty family wasn’t happy with Castelli using the video this time around.

Castelli told McClatchy Monday what seemed to set off the Petty family was that a social media post went viral Friday that included the video.

On Saturday afternoon, Rebecca Petty Moffitt, Petty’s daughter and the executive director of The Petty Family Foundation, sent a written statement to McClatchy.

“Richard Petty has not endorsed any candidate for the 2024 Republican Primary,” Moffitt said. “Richard is a life-long conservative and has always been heavily involved in Republican politics but he has not made any primary endorsements in this election.”

Castelli was clearly frustrated by the situation when reached by phone Monday morning.

“This has only become an issue in the last two weeks when people started paying attention to the primary,” Castelli told McClatchy. “And this happens to be a very contentious primary here in NC06. I don’t want to be mischaracterized or anybody to make implications that I have lied or I’m presenting endorsements that I don’t have. That’s not what I do. That’s what Mark Walker does.”

Walker’s involvement?

Walker, who served as a music minister before representing the 6th district for three terms beginning in 2015, has also been accused of faking endorsements. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House Speaker Mike Johnson, Sen. Markwayne Mullin and Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Matt Gaetz have either pulled their endorsements of Walker, or said they never gave him one in the first place.

Asked if he wanted to respond to Castelli’s comments, Walker said in a text message to McClatchy, “I love Richard Petty and NASCAR. Yesterday’s race in Atlanta was an incredible photo finish. We don’t anticipate the same for the 6th District.”

Walker’s comments could be taken as a bit tongue-in-cheek, as many believe Walker could be the race’s front-runner, but also wonder if he can secure enough votes to avoid a runoff election.

“Richard Petty has a lot of handlers,” Castelli said. “They’re probably feeling pressure from the Mark Walker camp. They probably supported him in the past. This was not an issue when I was the Republican nominee.”

Walker knows Petty. His social media accounts includes many photos with the King. But it’s unclear whether Walker has that kind of influence.

And Moffitt said she’s unaware of any pressure from Walker.

Regardless, Castelli lashed out after hearing about Moffitt’s statement over the weekend. North State Journal, who first reported on it Saturday, quoted Castelli saying that the Pettys “don’t know much about politics.”

Richard Petty’s influence

Petty is influential in Republican politics, especially in North Carolina. He served on the Randolph County Board of Commissioners, supports Republicans through a political action committee, has given over $40,000 to federal candidates outside the PAC, ran for North Carolina secretary of state and stumped for former President Donald Trump. He is not someone a Republican candidate wants to upset.

Castelli said Petty was the first person he asked during the 2024 cycle to renew his 2022 endorsement. He said they met at an event organized by Victory Junction, a charity founded by Petty’s family.

“He was the first person that I asked to renew his endorsement and the answer I got was yes, but it was many months ago, and I don’t think quite honestly that they realized we were in primary season,” Castelli said. “As soon as the last general was over we were in primary season again, and I asked them very early on at that event.”

Castelli provided McClatchy an email Monday from December, in which he said he was reminding Moffitt that her father agreed to renew his endorsement and that he had recirculated the endorsement video. She wrote back “Good News. Good Luck and Merry Christmas.”

Castelli said it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when he asked for Petty to do a 30-second voice message robocall, that he knew something changed.

“The response I got was, ‘This close to the primary, Richard would prefer not to do it,’” Castelli said. “And I thought, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’”

His campaign continued using Petty’s endorsement in literature they posted online and did not remove him from their online endorsement list.

First Freedoms Fund

A Greensboro-based political action committee, First Freedoms Foundation, posted Petty’s endorsement Friday.

This isn’t the first time the super PAC has landed Castelli in a situation where he’s had to answer for his endorsements.

In late January, the PAC circulated a video Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson recorded in 2022 endorsing Castelli’s congressional campaign against Manning, which he lost when the district favored a Democrat to win. The way the video was posted made it appear as if it were from 2024.

Robinson immediately put out a statement that he did not endorse Castelli in the 2024 cycle and threatened legal action.

Castelli said he is not behind the super PAC.

He added that he thinks a lot of the confusion regarding endorsements has happened because initially Walker planned to run for governor, but when he saw there wasn’t a viable path forward, he switched to a congressional race.

He said that has left some of their mutual supporters conflicted on who to endorse, and others confused on who is running against whom.

Castelli and Walker are two of six Republicans vying for the party’s nomination on March 5. The other four include former lobbyist Addison McDowell, former N.C. State football player Bo Hines, former High Point Mayor Jay Wagner and plastic surgeon Mary Ann Contogiannis. No Democrat is running in this district.

McDowell is endorsed by former President Donald Trump, who announced Sunday he will hold a rally in Greensboro on March 2.