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Day 5: California Couple a mainstay on ride

May 07, 2014, Mike Hembree, Special for,

Renee Bartels: 'We said as long as Kyle (Petty) would do it we would support it'

AUSTIN, Texas -- Only 10 individuals have ridden in all 20 of Kyle Petty's charity motorcycle rides across the continent. The most unlikely members of that group are David and Renee Bartels, a married couple from San Jose, California.

They aren't big NASCAR fans. In the beginning, they didn't know Richard Petty from Richard Gere. But they had a tiny connection that changed their lives, which introduced the couple to a culture foreign to them and launched them on a journey of thousands of miles.

When Kyle Petty and others cranked up the first Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America in 1995, they needed trucks to transport many of the motorcycles to the ride's starting point. Petty contacted executives at Mayflower, then a NASCAR sponsor, and they agreed to supply trucks for the cross-country trip.

Day 5 recap

Started: Austin, Texas.
Beaumont, Texas.
Miles traveled:

The Bartels own a Mayflower agency in San Jose. The first ride started near San Francisco, and Mayflower's corporate office asked them to accompany the riders on the first leg of the trip to represent the company.

"They called us because they knew we rode bikes," Renee said. "We didn't know anybody. We just showed up. We took off down Highway 101 and got to LA."

The end of that day's first ride segment was supposed to be the end of the ride for the Bartels. Twenty years later, they still haven't taken the exit ramp.

"We decided at the LA stop that we were having too much fun, so we decided to go on to the next step in Las Vegas," she said. "Then we said we'll do one more -- to Phoenix. Got to Phoenix and said, 'Call the office and tell them we're going all the way.' "

They didn't bring any changes of clothes or supplies, so they had to make some purchases along the way, but they were hooked.

Beginning with the second ride, the Bartels have provided the trucks to transport the bikes, and they have been along for every mile.

Before the ride became a vehicle to raise money for the Petty family's Victory Junction Gang Camp, it raised funds for children's hospitals, and the ride stopped at hospitals along the route.

"Here was a group of people taking their vacation time to go out and raise money and go into these hospitals and give it to those families," Renee said. "We went in with them and saw these big, burly guys praying with these families. It just touched us.

"We said that if they can take time out of what they do and spend their money in ways we saw as honorable, we said as long as Kyle would do it we would support it."

Joining the ride quickly put the Bartels in touch with Richard Petty.

"He rode with us the first year," Renee said. "After a 700-mile ride into Odessa, Texas, we stopped at a closed gas station. Somebody went to get some pizzas. We were sitting on the pavement there eating.

"A transient walked over and sat down next to Richard. He didn't know who he was talking to. He said, 'That looks like good pizza.' Richard handed him his piece and said, 'Here, have a piece.' I thought right there, 'Wow.'

"The compassion everybody gives to this is really what keeps you going."

Kyle Petty called the Bartels "a mainstay of the ride from the very, very beginning. Everybody loves them. They're really quiet people, but they're a core couple for us. We did a talent show on the ride one year, and they came out as Sonny and Cher -- David as Cher and Renee as Sonny. It was hilarious because it was so out of character for them."

So was the ride. Until the first day back in '95.

Day 5 recap

Started: Austin, Texas.
Beaumont, Texas.
Miles traveled:

Notes: Wednesday's breakfast was the most anticipated of the ride. It happened at a Krispy Kreme restaurant in Austin. Krispy Kreme was the ride sponsor for the day. Number of doughnuts consumed -- incalculable. … Richard Petty is riding a three-wheel motorcycle on the ride because, as he said, his daughters told him he was not allowed on a standard two-wheeler. Many of the ride bikes are carrying a decal in memory of Richard's wife, Lynda, who died in March after a long battle with cancer.

Thursday's route: Beaumont, Texas, to Broussard, Louisiana; to New Orleans.

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


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