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Day 1: Gant leads pack on 20th charity ride

May 03, 2014, Mike Hembree, Special for, NASCAR.com

Harry Gant

Our daily diary starts with a chat with the popular former Cup driver

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- At 74 years old, Harry Gant, once one of NASCAR's most popular drivers, keeps a daily schedule that would tax many people 20 years younger.
      
Gant is owner, operator and chief cowboy at the Rocky Creek Ranch, his 300-acre farm in Taylorsville, North Carolina, the town he raced from throughout his driving career. Gant raises beef cattle and spends much of his time keeping that operation tuned up.

Twenty years after his driving ended with 18 premier series victories, Gant still makes appearances for sponsors and companies who were associated with him during decades of racing. And fans still show up in Taylorsville seeking the driver known as "Handsome Harry."

"It's amazing the fans that come around looking for you," Gant said. "We had a couple guys from New York come around, and Peggy (Gant's wife) told them where to find me and here they come with a bunch of stuff for me to sign.

Day 1 recap
Started:
Carlsbad, California.
Finished: Tucson, Arizona.
Miles traveled: 444.9.

"One of them had on a T-shirt that said, 'Show Rabbits.' That's what they do -- show rabbits. Twenty-nine-pound rabbits."

A long career in short-track racing -- Gant didn't arrive in the Cup Series until he was 40 years old -- took Gant into virtually every state of the Union as he and other Sportsman drivers of the day competed at tracks both well-known and exceptionally obscure.

"I've spun wheels on a race car in about every place in the U.S.," he said.

Of the places Gant didn't reach then, he's seen many as one of a handful of participants who've been on all 20 Kyle Petty Charity Rides, starting in 1995.

Gant, who said he's been riding motorcycles since he was 13, was in a core group who started riding from the Carolinas to Phoenix in the late 1980s for race week at Phoenix International Raceway. Also along was Gant's friend, Don Tilley, owner of the Harley-Davidson dealership in Statesville, North Carolina. Those rides evolved into the Petty charity ride, and Gant and Tilley return each year to ride at the front of the line.

"We've had a great time all through the years," Gant said. "When we started, we didn't know where it was going. Every time out, you see something different. I never thought it would be going this long.

"I remember riding through Texas in the desert one night and the moon was so bright. I can hardly describe how pretty it was."

Now there's a new dimension to Gant's racing life. His 17-year-old grandson, Chase Pollard, is racing four-cylinders at Hickory Speedway in North Carolina.

"I never dreamed one of the kids would want to do it," Gant said. "He's done really well so far. I asked my daughter, ‘What you think about Chase?'

"She said, 'I don't know how long he'll last. I'd rather he go ahead to school and get an engineering degree.'

"I said, ‘You don't want him to race?'

"She said, 'No, I don't want him to be like you.' "


Day 1 recap
Started:
Carlsbad, California.
Finished: Tucson, Arizona.
Miles traveled: 444.9.

Notes:
At almost 445 miles, Saturday's opening day is easily the longest of the eight-day ride. … Two hundred riders started the trip, making this year's 20th annual ride one of the largest. … Saturday's ride took the group through mountains and desert, past orange groves and vineyards. A cool morning turned into a toasty afternoon in the Arizona desert. … Very popular at fuel-stop autograph signings -- ride overlord Kyle Petty and former National Football League star Herschel Walker.

Sunday's route: Tucson, Arizona to Tombstone, Arizona; to Douglas, Arizona; to Lordsburg, New Mexico; ending in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Donate: The Kyle Petty Charity Ride raises money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a summer camp for chronically ill children. To donate, go to victoryjunction.org.

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