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May 3, 2024

Homecoming, milestones for Kyle Petty Charity Ride as Victory Junction turns 20

Kyle Petty and his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, with a scenic, snow-covered mountainside as a backdrop.
Kevin Kane Photography

The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has clocked many miles in its 28 years of existence. The milestones along the way have also been significant.

This spring’s edition kicks off Saturday with plans to add many more miles to the annual philanthropic gathering of the NASCAR and motorcycling community – more than 2,100 on this year’s odometer, stretching from a start in Deadwood, South Dakota to its home base in Randleman, North Carolina. This year’s milestone has special meaning, celebrating the cause behind the long-running event.

This year’s charity ride marks the 20th year of the Victory Junction Camp, founded by the Petty family in memory of Kyle’s son Adam. The event also coincides with the Petty family’s celebration of 75 years of racing. Fittingly, the ride’s southern terminus is a homecoming, ending with the group’s arrival at the Randolph County facility – not far from the family’s Level Cross origins – to cheer the occasion.

“Twenty years, it’s hard to believe. It is absolutely hard to believe,” Petty said last month during pre-race festivities at Martinsville Speedway. “It’s hard to believe Adam has been gone 24 years — May 12. That still fascinates me, but it is hard to believe. I think we had such a passion for it to build it and to start it, that we never thought about it lasting. It’s just like, ‘Let’s build it. Now what are we gonna do with it?’ That kind of thing. So for it to be here 20 years and to survive and to flourish, it has been amazing.”

MORE: Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America | Victory Junction Camp

The ride has raised more than $21 million for the camp and other children’s charitable causes since it first hit the open road in 1995. Last year’s event alone raised more than $1.7 million for Victory Junction, which provides life-changing camp experiences for children with chronic medical illnesses.

Those sustaining gifts have helped Victory Junction with a full renovation of the camp’s waterpark area, which is set to greet campers this summer.

“That’s a big deal for us, too, to end there at camp and see what these people — the people who have ridden every year, the people that have ridden 25, the people that have ridden 10, 15, and the people that are first-year riders,” Petty says, “they contribute just as much because they contribute their time.”

Riders on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, with scenic long-range mountains as a backdrop
Kevin Kane Photography

That group has grown into a tight-knit community in the years since the ride’s founding. Of the 250 scheduled to make the trip this year, 222 have participated in previous years – including 172 returning from the 2023 event. Three riders – Darrell Andrews, Jon Manafort and Len Sherrill – have joined Petty on every edition.

That continuity has sparked friendships for many riders that have extended beyond their cross-country springtime treks.

“It’s fascinating. Everybody, they do become family.” Petty said. “When somebody gets married, you go to a wedding, and there may be 15 or 20 charity riders at a wedding. If you go to a funeral, there may be 40 or 50 people there who come to pay their respects for somebody who’s been on the ride. So, it becomes more than the ride. It becomes like that summer camp for adults that you go to every year, and you just create such friendships. And in the end, you send kids to camp, so that’s what it’s all about.”

This year’s seven-day route traverses nine states with a theme that Petty has dubbed “AmerICON” for the landmarks along the way. Some of those iconic venues continue the automotive theme with stops at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and the National Corvette Museum, but also a midweek check-in at Churchill Downs – home of Saturday’s 150th Kentucky Derby.

Perhaps the most signature American sight on the trip is scheduled for Day 1 with a stop at Mt. Rushmore. Petty laughs as he recalls a previous attempt to see the historic monument during the ride a few years ago, when the contingent walked through the attraction’s gates only to see a bank of clouds obscuring the four presidential faces.

“We considered ourselves the only tour group that’s ever been to Mount Rushmore and didn’t see it,” Petty said, adding that the experience made him vow never to return. He laughed in mentioning that he’ll break that promise this year. “I got overruled,” he says. “We’re going back to see it.”

Several celebrities from the NASCAR world will be joining this year’s ride, including Richard Petty, David Ragan, Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace and Max Papis. TV colleagues Rick Allen and Rutledge Wood are also scheduled to participate as well as Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.

That list also includes a scheduled return by the splendid Hershel McGriff – 96 years young – who learned of his election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 while on the ride.

“I hope at 96 that I want to get on a motorcycle,” says Petty, a relative spring chicken at 63. “I’m not saying I’m going to get on one, but I hope I want to, because he can still do it.”