News & Record, August 25, 2017

GREENSBORO — The scion of a legendary NASCAR family will branch out in a new direction .

Austin Petty — son of Kyle and grandson of Richard — will become the new executive director of Community Theatre of Greensboro.

“We believe he will be a great person to represent CTG, to interact with other people in the community and to have the vision to take CTG forward,” board President George Carson said.

Petty will replace longtime executive director Mitchel Sommers, who requested that he move into a new role overseeing CTG’s artistic side.

Petty, 35, and a High Point resident, will start his new job on Sept. 5.

He will manage a 68-year-old organization that produces plays at its own Starr Theatre building at 520 S. Elm St. and at the nearby Carolina Theatre, home to its popular annual production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Petty doesn’t bring theater management experience to his new role.

That wasn’t a requirement as CTG’s board of directors sought an executive director, Carson said.

But Petty particularly impressed the board with his years of management and fundraising at Victory Junction, the nonprofit camp that his family founded in Randleman for children with serious medical conditions.

CTG feels an affinity with Victory Junction’s focus on children with disabilities, as well as inclusiveness and diversity, Carson said. Among CTG’s offerings is OnStage and Inclusive, a summer program for people with disabilities.

The board also was impressed with Petty’s leadership, confidence and interpersonal skills.

The public might be shocked that a Petty will run a community theater in Greensboro, Petty said in an interview.

But those who know him and his family, and their belief in community, will not be surprised, he said.

“I have a passion for nonprofit work and am super-excited about what I think I can bring to the Community Theatre of Greensboro,” Petty said.

Sommers, 64, has run CTG for more than 27 years. He earned a reputation as its passionate, behind-the-scenes wizard, credited with turning it around artistically and financially.

But he had announced in February that he wanted to focus on the artistic side and would help to recruit a new executive director to take his place.

He said he is happy with Petty’s selection.

“It’s going to be exciting for CTG and the arts community to have someone who has a new perspective, who has not been part of the arts scene,” Sommers said.

He also expects Petty to attract a new group of participants, volunteers and donors who know Petty and his work.

The son of Kyle and Pattie Petty and a Pfeiffer University graduate, Austin Petty has spent much of his professional life with family operations.

He spent four years with Petty Enterprises racing team as an apprentice and executive offices manager, then two years as executive director at the family’s Adaumont Farms, an event space.

In 2004, the family opened Victory Junction in memory of Adam Petty, Austin Petty’s brother, who had died in a racing accident. Children attend the camp at no cost to their families.

Austin Petty became Victory Junction’s executive vice president and chief operating officer in 2010.

He built relationships with entities such as NASCAR, Smithfield Foods, Krispy Kreme, Bass Pro Shops, Ford Motor Company, Sprint and Coca Cola, and several NASCAR drivers and their foundations.

He left Victory Junction in January to spend more time with his wife, Sarah, and two young sons.

“I thought, ‘I’m 35 and if I ever wanted to do something outside of racing or outside of one of our charities, now is the time to do it or I would never do it,’ ” he said.

He became one of 130 applicants for the CTG job, thinking that it was a long shot.

“But as I started talking to some of the board members and seeing where the Community Theater is and where they’re trying to take it and what they want to do with it, it was a natural fit for me to come in and step in as new executive director and spearhead their new development and fundraising goals,” Petty said.

He said he will rely on Sommers as he learns more about the artistic side.

Sommers will work part-time, overseeing programming such as OnStage and Inclusive. His duties are still being defined, Carson said.

But Sommers will continue to direct “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I don’t see my ever ending my relationship with CTG unless it is the wish of the community and the board,” Sommers said.

But Sommers won’t miss the fundraising required to support CTG’s annual budget, now at about $800,000. That job will go to Petty.

“And I won’t miss getting the call at 1 a.m. on a Saturday that one of the leads has quit a show, and I have 24 hours to find a replacement,” Sommers said.