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Woody: Kyle Petty Moves From Racing Cars To Helping Kids

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 13 2009
Officials, including Pattie Petty, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Petty, broke ground on Wednesday for the new Victory Junction Gang Camp in Kansas City, Kan. 

Officials, including Pattie Petty, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Petty, broke ground on Wednesday for the new Victory Junction Gang Camp in Kansas City, Kan.

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com 

When Adam Petty, an effervescent teenager with the trademark Petty-sunbeam smile, died in a crash at New Hampshire Speedway in 2000 his parents decided to build a lasting monument.

Kyle and Pattie Petty, on a plot of North Carolina land donated by Adam’s famous grandfather Richard, built Victory Junction Camp, an expense-paid retreat for youngsters with life-threatening ailments.

The camp, dedicated to Adam’s memory, opened in 2004. Since then it has hosted more than 10,000 kids, bringing some much-needed joy into struggling young lives.

“Every time I see a smile on the faces of one of those kids, I see Adam,” Kyle says. “The camp keeps his spirit alive.”

The camp, which includes in-house medical facilities and trained staff, is expensive to operate. NASCAR, its fans and drivers help support it, and Kyle makes an annual celebrity motorcycle tour to generate funds and promote awareness.

This year’s ride started last Friday in Stevenson, Washington, on a 3,500-mile path to Greensboro, N.C. The 200 riders include such sports celebrities as former football great Herschel Walker, golfer Davis Love III and retired NASCAR star Harry Gant. At scheduled stops along the way the public is invited to come out and meet the riders.

On Wednesday, the ride stopped in Kansas City, Kan. It stopped there to break ground on a second Victory Junction Gang Camp. Kyle and Pattie determined a couple of years ago that the original camp was not taking care of needs, that too many deserving children were being turned away.

They looked for a location for a second camp and decided on Kansas City, a community which has responded to the cause with support and land and sweat.

The spring of 2000 was a tragic period for the Petty family whose patriarch, Lee, died shortly before Adam’s fatal crash. In a span of a few weeks racing’s First Family lost its past and its future.

Adam, 19 at the time of his death, had inherited his famous grandfather’s incredible driving talent along with his captivating charisma. There’s no question that Adam Petty would have become a superstar in the sport.

His loss signaled an end to stock car racing’s greatest dynasty. Kyle continued to race to help keep Petty Enterprises afloat, but his broken heart wasn’t in it.

Earlier this year the half-century-old team was absorbed by another racing operation. Even though it is called Richard Petty Motorsports and carries the familiar No. 43 on its cars, decals and paint jobs can’t disguise what was lost.

Kyle put it best when the team transferred its operation from its original base in Level Cross – across the road from Richard’s boyhood home – to Charlotte: “To me, it’s not the same team.”

Kyle is no longer associated with the new “Petty” team. He hasn’t officially retired, even though he’s currently not driving. He dabbles in TV work but devotes most of his time and energy to Victory Junction and related fund-raising activities.

This wasn’t the way the Pettys had planned it. Adam was supposed to carry the legacy forward into a fourth generation and beyond. But when he died, the future died with him.

All that’s left are memories, and Kyle is determined to keep them alive.

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 13 2009
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