Kyle Petty will start traveling 2,150 miles in a few days, a journey that stretches from Phoenix to Biloxi, Miss., and includes an unlimited supply of Advil and Tylenol to get everyone through the grind.
But there’s a lingering pain that never quite goes away. Kyle is honoring a lost son. Richard Petty mourns the loss of his grandson. They both push on because this is what drivers do.
Every mile is all about Adam Petty. Adam loved children, and he loved racing. That dream ended on May 12, 2000, when Adam, then 19, was killed in a crash during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.
But his love of kids is something that will likely carry on eternally. It is etched in every mile of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, which raises funds and awareness for Victory Junction — a camp that provides camping experiences for children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
The camp is Adam’s legacy. Richard and Kyle do everything they can to make sure people never forget as they prepare for this year’s week-long ride that begins on April 30 and includes 200-some-odd people.
It all began quite innocuously 22 years ago when Kyle Petty and a handful of his NASCAR buddies, including Harry Gant, Robin Pemberton and Mike Helton, had an off weekend after a race in California and really just wanted to ride across the country on their motorcycles.
“The first year we raised $35,000, and we stopped and gave some money away to a fireman who had been injured, a family in Phoenix,” Kyle Petty said. “We got back and said, ‘It won’t get any better than that. The perfect frat party. You can’t duplicate it. We’re never going to do it again.’
“Now 22 years later and we’ve raised more than $16 million. ... A lot of good has come from it. We don’t cure cancer. We get on our motorcycles and ride from the west coast to the east coast. But a lot of people get behind it. These people who have come out is the cool part.”
Putting it all together is part of a logistical challenge, if not an occasional nightmare. Petty’s wife, Morgan, spends a year setting up the whole thing — from connecting with gasoline stations able to accommodate a bull-rush of 200 motorcycle riders to hotels willing to free up a rooms in bulk.
This year’s group includes Richard Petty, back for another run, Donnie Allison and former NFL great Herschel Walker. It’s impossible for the current crop of Cup drivers to join along because they will be in Talladega this weekend, but a number of guys — including Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip — have joined in previous years for at least part of the trek.
“A lot of fans don’t get a chance to see Terry Labonte or Richard Petty or Matt Kenseth if not for the TV screen,” Kyle Petty said. “And all of a sudden, there are these guys standing in the middle of a gas station eating a Subway sandwich. That makes it worthwhile.”
It a little bit more than that. It’s about a family honoring a son as the Petty legend rolls on and on eternally.
Track: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (tri-oval, 2.66 miles)
Schedule: Friday, practice (FS1, 2:30 p.m.); practice (FS1, 4:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (FOX, 12:30 p.m.); Sunday, race, 1 p.m. (Fox)
Distance: 500 miles (188 laps)
Defending champion: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Sparks Energy 300
Track: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (tri-oval, 2,66 miles)
Schedule: Friday, practice (FS1, 11:30 p.m.), practice (FS1, 1:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying, (FS1, 10:30 a.m.) race, 3 p.m. (Fox)
Distance: 300 miles (113 laps)
Defending champion: Joey Logano
Track: Royal Purple Raceway, Baytown, Texas
Schedule: Friday, qualifying (6 p.m.), qualifying (8:30 p.m.); Saturday, qualifying (2:30 p.m.), qualifying (5 p.m.); Sunday, final eliminations, (3:55 p.m.), FS1
Defending champions: Ron Capps (Funny Car), Doug Kalitta (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock)