Kyle Petty has achieved much in his 30-year career on the NASCAR circuit including eight wins and being twice named the NASCAR Illustrated Person of the Year. Despite the big success, Petty also has a big heart, and now Southeast Texas can see the generosity up close and personal as the 20th anniversary Kyle Petty Charity Ride makes a stop in Beaumont on Wednesday, May 7.
The Kyle Petty Charity Ride will be at the Hampton Inn at 3795 I-10 S. at 4:15 p.m.
Petty will lead more than 200 motorcycle riders, which include his father and legendary NASCAR driver Richard, NASCAR legends Geoff Bodine and Harry Gant, plus former NFL running back Herschel Walker, Rick Allen of NBC’s NASCAR America and Rutledge Wood of The History Channel’s Top Gear, plus other names synonymous with NASCAR — Matt Kenseth and 10-time race winner Donnie Allison.
“We would love for everyone in Southeast Texas to come hang out, take some photos, sign some autographs, talk racing, but more importantly, we want to spread the word on what we are doing,” said Kyle Petty.
So what is Petty doing? The Kyle Petty Charity Ride begins in Carlsbad, Calif., on May 3 and will finish May 10 in Daytona Beach and raises funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a nonprofit camp in Randleman, N.C., created by Petty to enrich the lives of children with chronic of life-threatening illnesses.
“I was fortunate and blessed to have three healthy children,” said Petty. “In motorsports, we worked with Make-A-Wish and would always get kids to come to the racetrack. I was best friends with two cousins of mine that were mentally challenged. They were always near and dear to my heart. It was something we sat down and said, ‘Let’s go help some families and kids.’ My oldest son, Adam, was killed in a racing accident in 2000, and that’s when we really got serious and said, ‘Let’s build a camp for these kids.’ I had run some races with Paul Newman and at the time had a camp called Hole In The Wall Gang Camp, which is now called Serious Fun Camp. He told us how he did it and we duplicated how he did it in Connecticut, and we built one in North Carolina in honor of Adam, and that’s where all the money has gone. For me, it was more of a personal thing.”
Petty said this started as a handful of people who wanted to say that they rode their motorcycle across the country. “We decided to do it like a ‘bike-a-thon’ and get some people to sponsor us and give the money away while visiting children’s hospitals,” said Petty. “It went from that to raising $14 million; we’ve built a children’s camp and gone to 24 different children’s hospitals.”
Victory Junction offers programs for a range of disease groups and maintains strong relationships with more than 30 partner hospitals. Victory Junction’s mission is to provide life changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering in a safe and for ages 6-16.
“We grow every year,” said
Petty. “We’ve seen 17,000 children since the camp opened in 2004. The first year we saw 600 kids and went from a summer camp to a year long camp. Some of the kids we see have gastro intestinal problems, blood disorders, and cancers.”
The 2014 ride marks the group’s first ever coast-to-coast tour. “The first year we went down to San Francisco, then went down to Los Angeles, and started across the country and ended in Charlotte, where I am from,” said Petty. “We looked and we’ve gone everywhere, just not ocean to ocean. We never started on the coast of California and ended on the coast of Florida or North Carolina, Pacific to Atlantic, so this will be the longest ride.”
Of all places, why stop in Beaumont?
“Honestly, when we started looking at different cities, we wanted to go through Austin,” said Petty. “We had to get back down on the coast so we are going to stop in Beaumont, and we also have a rider with us from Beaumont named Darryl Smith. He has ridden with us for the last few years. We try to go places at some point in time where riders are from or have lived.”
Those who meet up with the riders in Beaumont will have the opportunity to donate to the “Small Change Big Impact” program.
Though he still spends a lot of time around the races, Petty said he misses driving.
“It’s a simplistic answer, but I tell people all the time when I was 6 or 7 years old, going to the racetrack being around my father’s cars, all I dreamed about was driving and sitting on that seat, and hanging on to that steering wheel,” said Petty. “I didn’t want to be famous, I wasn’t worrying about sponsors or being on television. It was all about driving, and that’s the part I miss.”