In what started out as a fun outing with friends, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride has grown into so much more over the past 23 years. The 24th edition is set to begin in Portland, Maine on May 5, taking riders 1,200 miles across the United States to raise money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
Recently, POPULAR SPEED caught up with Kyle Petty to talk about the charity ride, and it’s connection to the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
POPULAR SPEED: With the reveal of this year’s Kyle Petty Charity ride route, how’s the excitement been?
KYLE PETTY: Really good. We’re excited about it. We went to Portland, Oregon last year so we decided to start in Portland, Maine this year. We thought we’d confuse all of our riders when we opened up and said that we were leaving Portland, they were ‘Oh My God, we were just in Portland last year’. But Portland, Maine over to Albany, across to the speedway there in New Hampshire, then Woodstock, Pocono, Nazareth, and Lancaster, and Shenandoah National Park, and then down to my dad’s museum, and then up to the Victory Junction Camp. It’s pretty cool.
We kind of laid it out to where we do two race tracks, two music related items, a national park, the Homestead – we’ve been there a couple places, and then my dad’s museum and the camp kind of ties everything back together. We’re calling it our Americana tour because everything seems to be only in America that you see these things.
PS: How did the charity ride come about initially?
PETTY: There was a group of us – myself, Harry Gant – just a group of fans that rode to Phoenix, Arizona. We used to do that and we thought, ‘Man, what if we did it cross country?’ We’d never been from California to back home. We had just ridden to Arizona and back home. We started talking about and let’s raise some money. That first year, we raised about $30,000 and stopped along the way and saw people in hospitals and things like that. We thought it’s greatest thing in the world and it’d never get any better than this.
Here we are 24 years later and we’ve raised $18.5 million, sent thousands of kids to Victory Junction Camp, and visited a bunch of hospitals along the way to help families pay their bills so it’s turned into something a lot bigger than the first ride where it was just a bunch of us wanting to ride across country.
PS: I know that there’s got to be tons of stories from years past. What’s one of those that stand out for you?
PETTY: I don’t know. There’s so many. Terry Labonte rode with us one year. There was a group of his fans that drove four or five hours out to the middle of the desert because they knew we’d be coming through that area. There was not a store anywhere, and they were just standing on the side of the road and the whole ride stopped to talked to them. We’ve been to Austin, Nevada, and went to place in Wyoming last year and the entire school let out – ages K through 12 – which being a small school, it’s about 80 people. In Austin, Nevada, it was about 18 people. It’s been interesting to see the cross section of America and meet people whose lives are different than what we live and do, but at the same time, to meet people. I think the people are the stories, the people that you meet along the way.
PS: For someone who is thinking about taking part for the first time, what’s your advice to them?
PETTY: If you’re up for adventure, if you’re up to meet new people, and if you’re up for making friendships that will last a lifetime, this is what you need to do because it is the people that participate in the ride, the people that we meet along the way – it’s just fun. My advice is just do it because so many people see things and think 20 years later they wished they would’ve rode across America on a motorcycle, or I wish I would’ve gone to camp and saw those kids, and helped them. 20 years on, it’s hard to look back and do it again. But if you do it when you think about it, I’m telling you, grab a motorcycle and join in.
PS: What does it mean for you to have seen the growth over the years, and support for the camp?
PETTY: The Charity ride and watching it grow has been phenomenal, because it was just something that I loved to do – ride motorcycles. To watch what it has grown into, it’s like watching a child. You have all these hope and all these dreams, and all of these expectations, and when they come true, it’s amazing; when they far exceed anything you dreamed of, then it’s more amazing. That’s what I think the charity ride has been for me personally. At the same time, building the camp after I lost a real son, and knowing the potential he had and what he could do, and what his life meant to these kids that come to camp.
We’ve seen 28,000 kids come through camp in 14 years, and I think we’ve seen 7,000 – 10,000 kids directly because of the donations of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride. So it’s pretty amazing to see how these two things have joined together to do good for other kids and families. I tell people all the time – I lost a son, but I felt like I gained 28,000 other kids that are apart of my family.
PS: When you were opening Victory Junction originally, how did you come to the decision to build a camp?
PETTY: I had been to camp in Florida called Boggy Creek and I had driven a couple racecars with Paul Newman, who started the original The Hole in Wall Gang Camp. When Adam’s accident happened, Adam and I had talked about a camp and building one in North Carolina for kids. When his accident happened and he was killed, then it was the perfect timing. The timing was right, the seed had already been planted and began to grow, so that’s what we did. The idea came from a lot of different places and when you recognize that someone is trying to tell you something – meaning God is trying to tell us to build a camp and so many things happen, you start a camp.
PS: The Victory Junction Gang Camp has done tons for kids over the years. What does it mean to you to have given back so much to them?
PETTY: Number one – we just raised our hand and said we were going to build a camp. The Pettys – Kyle Petty, Richard Petty – the Pettys did not build camp. The Pettys were just people standing out in the middle of the field by themselves with their hand up in the air saying, ‘Hey, can you guys come help us build camp?’ Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart – those guys, plus their legions of fans that came and donated and helped build camp. The thousands of volunteers that we’ve had help maintain camp. Camp to me is – I’m just the caretaker. It’s not my camp; I’m just the caretaker.
I think we all have pride and I think sometimes you look at it and say, ‘Man, look what we built.’ We didn’t build anything – thousands of people built it. At the same time, we don’t do anything for those kids; they do everything for us. When I see those kids come to camp and they’re in a wheelchair, or they have crones, or a blood disorder, and you see them catch a fish for the first time or ride a horse, or play in the water park, then you realize this is pretty cool. These kids are just being kids. So you get that from them. I don’t think they get anything from us – we get everything from them.
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