Kyle Petty has placed a generation’s worth of effort into his philanthropic work. It’s a milestone he never quite saw coming back in 1995, when a handful of friends and motorcycle enthusiasts started discussion about the ultimate road trip for a good cause.
Some 25 years later, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has grown into an annual highlight of the stock-car racing community’s calendar of charitable deeds. With many miles of crisscrossing the country already in the books, Petty says he knew the ride’s silver-anniversary edition was one worth celebrating on an extreme scale.
“This has been on our radar screen for a number of years, but we kind of saved it for the 25th,” Petty says. “We wanted the 25th to be something special — the longest, going corner to corner, the most bikes we’ve had in forever. We’re going to some new places and we’re going to some old places that have been favorites of the riders through the years that we have fond memories of. … We just thought, hey, the 25th. Might as well blow it out big-time, man, and do it corner to corner.”
This year’s Charity Ride route is the most ambitious in the event’s history, with 250 riders embarking on a scheduled distance of some 3,700 miles from Seattle to Key Largo, Florida, over a stretch from May 3-11.
The ride will again benefit the Victory Junction camp for chronic and critically ill children in Randleman, North Carolina. The facility, established in 2004 to honor the memory of Petty’s son, Adam, received $1.3 million from last year’s event. The outpouring of support in recent years has meant that more than 8,000 children have attended the camp at no cost.
“It’s crazy, and I say that all the time. The NASCAR community, I shouldn’t be amazed by it any more by all that they do,” Petty said “When one person in the community does something, everybody kind of chimes in and helps. … When you look at the drivers and the people in the NASCAR community, they’ve always supported it. I look at it that this is my community because I grew up traveling week to week with the same group of people. When your community supports you, that’s big. So I think it means everything to me.”
Petty calls this year’s nine-day itinerary “a mix of the old and the new, the favorites and soon-to-be favorites.” Both endpoints of the route are new to the ride, as are stops in Oregon and Utah. Glenwood Springs, Colorado and Santa Fe are familiar return trips for past riders, as is Childress, Texas, where Petty says he’s experienced uncommon kindness from the local townsfolk.
“A couple of our guys had left their luggage at the last hotel, which was about 400 miles away,” Petty says, “and when we got there, the lady that worked at the front desk of the hotel where we were, took their clothes to her house, washed them, dried them, and brought them back for them — all in about an hour and a half. I thought, ‘You just don’t get that. People don’t do that for you.’ That was amazing.”
Among this year’s participants are his father, “The King” Richard Petty, current Monster Energy Series driver David Ragan, and former drivers Donnie Allison, Harry Gant and timeless wonder Hershel McGriff, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee who plans to join in at age 91. Petty will also have support from NBC Sports colleagues Rick Allen, Krista Voda and Rutledge Wood.
The planning and logistics of organizing overnight stays, fueling stops and three daily meals for nearly 250 people typically hasn’t given Petty much time for reflection. When the ride got its start, Petty figured he’d give the event a solid five-year run before moving on to other projects. Then five years prompted talk of a 10-year mark. The rides accumulated, and the 15-year milestone immediately spurred Petty’s group to the goal of a quarter-century.
This year, Petty is taking that moment for himself to reflect.
“When you get to 25 and look back, and I will say this is probably the first year that I’ve ever really sat down and thought about all the people that have been a part of the ride through the ride, the people that are not with us any more that have been part of the ride from the very beginning,” Petty says. “And I think about Adam and so many things that the ride has meant through the years to so many people, there’s 10 riders that have been on all 25 rides, so that’s all so special. You look back a bit at 25, but we’re still looking ahead, too.”
And looking ahead might mean another decade or two.
“I figured if Hershel McGriff can ride at 91, then we’re going to get 50 years out of this thing,” Petty says with a laugh. “I figure I’ve got another good 25 left in me, know what I mean?”