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Classic car honoring NASCAR great is more than just a restoration project

CHARLOTTE — For Kris Brown, the process of restoring a classic car began as project he shared with his father, Al Brown, as the two worked side-by-side for more than a year.

“We were sitting around one day and he came up with the idea,” Kris Brown said. “He says, you know, ‘it would be really nice to purchase a late model Dodge, and do a tribute car.’”

The two men shared a love for racing, each other, and legendary NASCAR driver Richard Petty.

In 1989, Al Brown purchased the car, a 1971 Plymouth Roadrunner for $1600.

“To most people, this is just a car,” Kris Brown said. “But it wasn’t for my father. Certainly not to me or the rest of my family.”

From the original detail package, to its identical match of the paint scheme from Petty’s car in 1991, everything about the Browns’ tribute honored “The King,”

The same car would later become the catalyst to help Kris Brown heal.

His father was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2011. He died from the disease that August.

“It happened so fast that I probably didn’t fully process it until after he passed away,” Brown said. “It hit me pretty hard.”

In the days prior to his father’s passing, Brown said he promised him he would finish restoring the car. The two had previously finished the exterior, though completing the project inside and out proved to be too expensive.

“I just couldn’t bring myself to do it,” he said. “Every time I started on the car, or got in it, started it up -- it hit me so much how bad I wished my dad was still here.”

The car sat, untouched, for more than five years.

Then along came Keith Irwin.

“Kris started telling me his backstory of the car and you could see the passion in his eyes,” Irwin said.

Irwin specializes in restoration, and met Kris at a car show, where the two were parked side-by-side.

“After talking to him for about an hour or so, I realized that he really wanted to finish this car. He just didn’t know how to get started,” Irwin said.

“He calls me and says ‘OK, where do I start?’ I said the first thing to do is always the fun part: You’ve got to tear it all apart,” he said.

That was all the motivation Brown needed.

“I got up, and I went back over to the shop, and -- 5:30, 6:00 that morning, I’m starting to tear the motor out of his car,” Brown said.

For the better part of two years, the work Brown did with his hands helped to heal his heart. He gutted the car to its bare bones and then built it again.

“To be honest with you, knowing my father the way I did, I think it would bring tears to his eyes. I really do,” he said.

“He was a custom homebuilder for 45 years. I mean, he made people’s dreams happen every day. To see his dream come true, I think it would’ve been something pretty special.”

The Browns’ tribute car has won multiple awards, including a VIP car show at ‘Petty Fest’, and was signed by “The King” himself.

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