Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride Ends In Victory – Again
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – Moments after the last V-Twin engine went silent, handshakes, high-fives and hugs marked the end of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America at Texas Motor Speedway.
“The worst part is it ends,” said Eddie Gossage, TMS president and a participant in all but one of the 18 annual two-wheel treks. “Because a bad day on a motorcycle is better than any day at work.”
A staple among the legion of bike-riders in the NASCAR community, this year’s tour took more than 175 riders across the Southwest during a seven-day, 2,500-mile journey. The ride began on Saturday, April 28, in Napa, Calif., and concluded with a victory lap Friday around TMS’ 1.5-mile quad-oval. Since 1995, more than 7,000 riders have logged 10.1-million cumulative miles and donated more than $14.5-million to benefit Victory Junction Gang Camp and other charities that support chronically ill children.
Victory Junction was founded by Kyle and wife, Pattie, to honor son and fourth generation NASCAR driver Adam, who was 19-years-old when he died from injuries suffered in an accident during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on May 12, 2000.
The year-round camp in the Petty Family stronghold of Randleman, N.C., was founded to help enrich the lives of children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating experiences that are memorable, empowering, physically safe and medically sound. More than 7,350 children have attended the camp, with ground broken on a second facility in Kansas City, Kan.
The ride has attracted the attention of athletes from both inside and outside NASCAR. This year’s list of
participants included Sprint Cup star Matt Kenseth, two-time/reigning Daytona 500 winner and former series champion; retired NASCAR driver “Handsome” Harry Gant, who has completed all 18 bike tours; Herschel Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner whose NFL career included a stint with the Dallas Cowboys and former NBA star and NASCAR team-owner Brad Daugherty.
Like longtime friend Gossage, Petty said climbing off his Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra after a final segment that began in Lubbock in West Texas was bittersweet.
“Yeah, the worst part is the end…because you miss everybody,” said Petty, a former Cup regular now working as a NASCAR analyst on the SPEED Network. “You just miss the people. You come out here, you think you’re going to have fun – it’s all about riding, it’s all about scenery, it’s all about that. And in the end it’s all about raising money for Victory Junction for camp.
“The thing is, you just miss the people. You’ll wake up the next morning and you won’t see Eddie, you won’t see Herschel, you won’t see the luggage guys that pick up your luggage in the morning, you won’t see the Coke guys, you won’t see the motor marshals and that’s sad. That’s always a sad day and it takes you about a week to get past that. It’s like being at summer camp and making new best friends for that solid week and then you’re back home to your normal life. You don’t forget them by any stretch of the imagination. It’s such a good group of people it’s almost family.”
Petty said the tour is kept fresh by changing the route each year. “We’ve gone San Francisco to North Carolina; San Diego to Charlotte; Maine to Miami; Traverse City, Mich., to Savannah, Ga.; Lake Placid, N.Y., to Amelia Island, Fla., last year…I mean, we just keep mixing-it-up and seeing different parts of the country,” Petty said. “And even though the majority of the people are the same, the scenery – the places we stay, the nights we have on our own, the things everybody does – makes it fresh every year.
“We went through the Redwoods the first day, and there was snow on the ground when we rode from Redding (Calif.) over to Reno. And then we rode ‘The Loneliest Road in America,’ which is Highway 50. There’s nothing out there. It really goes from the Golden Gate Bridge to Ocean City, Md. – runs straight across the country. There’s a stretch of 200-some-odd miles where there’s not a gas station, there’s not a house, nobody lives out there – there’s nothing. That was an incredible day because the scenery is just phenomenal.
“And then we went over to Grand Junction and Arches National Park (near Moab, Utah)…and when you ride in places like that, you know God has a sense of humor, too, because He’s stacked rocks on top of each other and you say, ‘How are they balanced? How did this erode this way?’ Then down to Albuquerque and over to Lubbock and coming here today was nice.”
Gossage acknowledged that the ride gets tougher every year because the core cast is getting older. “It’s physically a lot tougher than people think but it’s just a lot of fun to get out there,” said Gossage, who made the trip on his 2008 Harley-Davidson Screamin’ Eagle Ultra. “The things you get to see are just amazing. Two days ago we were in the mountains in the snow and today it’s over 90-something degrees.
“I’ve been on 17 of the 18 rides – missed 1996 while TMS was under construction. You know, we get on airplanes going on business trips and with this ride you get to do things you don’t typically get to see. I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was a kid, until a few years ago, and Mount Rushmore and just riding through the Rockies and all these little towns. You probably can’t name a little town that me and Kyle haven’t ridden through somewhere, sometime over the last 20-something years. Guys like Herschel and Harry Gant and Kyle…that’s a lot of fun when fans in some little town come up at a gas stop. That’s pretty neat.”
Gossage said the entourage annually includes off-duty police officers, who encountered an interesting problem Somewhere in California. “There was a guy that came up and shook Kyle’s hand,” Gossage said. “And Kyle said it’s not uncommon to come back with some money – somebody kind of palms $5 or $10 or $20 or $100 to give to the camp. A guy shook his hand, was ‘palming’ him something and he (Petty) came back and looked at it and it was a bag of pot! So in California, they’re different. He turned and gave it to one of the police officers with us and said, ‘You need to dispose of this properly.’ And I’m sure they did.”
Walker completed his eighth ride aboard a Can-Am reverse three-wheeler, a choice Gossage said earned the former star running back plenty of good-natured grief. Walker brushed-off his critics and wanted it made known that he has been riding motorcycles since he was 14. “And people don’t know I collect cars as well,” Walker said. “I’ve got about 20-something motorcycles and 70-something cars. I love NASCAR and I’ve always loved cars. I love anything with an engine that goes fast.”
Walker said he met Petty while attending a race in North Carolina, and learned about the ride and Victory Junction. “I thought it was absolutely amazing,” Walker said. “Kyle mentioned he was doing a motorcycle ride across America, and I said I’d love to do it. He asked me what types of bikes I had and I was telling him and he looked at me and goes, ‘Those bikes you’ve got probably won’t make it.’ I said, ‘What do you mean they won’t make it?’ He said, ‘You have what we call Starbucks bikes. You ride ‘em to Starbucks and ride home. They’re not going to make it across America.’ I went out and bought me another bike that could make it eight years ago and rode with him and absolutely loved it.”
Walker, pleased to be headed to his North Texas home about three miles from TMS, said he continues to be inspired by the work done at Victory Junction.
“Years ago when I was here with the Cowboys, Coach (Tom) Landry made a statement: ‘When you take something out of a society, put something back in,’ ” Walker said. “I love giving back and it’s such a great cause. You think of a camp as log cabins out in the woods, but this was absolutely amazing. It was like a Disney World for chronically ill kids. I’ve visited the camp a couple of times and have seen parents who have been with their kids 24/7 – I mean, the kid has always been with them. And they bring him to Victory Junction for the very first time and leave him there for a week. And when they come back, the kid wants to stay because he’s having a great time. It really brings tears to your eyes.
“I’ve been very fortunate throughout my life in doing a lot of different things. And to be able to help Victory Junction is easy; just getting on a motorcycle is fun. I wish a lot of other players would do what I do and come out here and ride because it’s for a worthy cause.”
Petty said the annual ride has been a key component to keeping Victory Junction up-and-running via the donations of the previous 17 years. “That’s what we’ve given away,” said Petty, referring to the $14.5-million figure. “That’s been a big, big thing for us, is to continue that cycle. This year has been a great year and even with the economy the way it is companies like Coca-Cola, Krispy Kreme, Freightliner, Pilot Travel Center furnished gas for us…every dime we get donated from that side goes back to the bottom line. This will be another big year for us.” Final 2012 donation figures were not immediately available.
Petty recalled that Gossage was among the first of his bike-riding brethren to support the idea of a charity tour, the offshoot of a “Wild Hogs” movie-like lark dubbed “The 99th annual Hey Buddy Tour.”
“We’ve come through Texas before,” Petty said, “and no matter where we’ve come through, the guys at Texas Motor Speedway and Eddie have been a part of it. But more than anything, Eddie’s just my friend. We’ve been friends for 25-30 years _ forever. And that’s the part where I talk about the people and the ride and the family. Nobody cares whether Herschel Walker ever carried a football in his life or that Harry Gant drove a race car or that Eddie Gossage runs this place. Nobody cares when you’re on the ride. They just like the people.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment