Petty was front and center as the 17th Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America began in Lake Placid, NY, on Saturday. The ride, which was founded in 1995, is scheduled for May 7-14 and will take its 150 motorcycle riders 2,400 miles along the East Coast to a finish in Amelia Island, FlaL.
Although the ride has evolved into a monster production since its humble beginnings as a fun run for Petty and a few friends, Petty keeps the week rolling along in his role as chief media spokesman and trail boss. It is one of his great passions.
“He rides sometimes out front of the group because he has a media appearance ahead or another obligation,” said Diane Hough, president and executive director of Kyle Petty Charity Ride and the event’s organizer since the beginning. “But, other than that, he’s back and forth, in and out of the group (of riders). He’s very hands-on, very accessible.”
Beyond the fun that accompanies the ride, it’s all about raising funds for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, the North Carolina camp for chronically ill children started by Petty and his wife, Pattie, in memory of their son, Adam. Fundraising is also active for a similar planned camp near Kansas City, Mo.
In 16 years, the ride has raised more than $14 million for the camp and other children’s charities. Donations range from a few pennies that are passed along to Petty by children along the ride route to big checks signed by ride sponsors.
Often along the ride route, on the secondary-road sections, children or families will be waiting at roadside holding signs urging Petty to stop to pick up a donation.
“They’ll be holding a sign with something like ‘Please Stop For My Change,’ ” Hough said. “Kyle always stops to greet and thank them. People come out just to see him. It’s all very up close and personal.”
The complex nature of the ride — participants travel through numerous states (usually across the United States from West Coast to East Coast) and require food, lodging and fuel — demands year-round work and planning. It typically runs like clockwork, and many of the riders return year after year to renew friendships made on past rides and see parts of the country they haven’t visited on two wheels. And, of course, to help the Pettys with a great cause.
“We have a lot of logistics to handle and things to take care of to make it all work,” Hough said. “It’s all very organized, but the heart is still there. It still has that incredible feeling that it’s always had. It’s an opportunity for fellowship and being together and people doing what they love to do while also helping out.”
Petty opens every day of the ride with information about the road ahead and offers a prayer. There are “pit stops” for meals and fuel, and fans typically gather at those locations.
“Kyle is very upbeat and very relaxed,” Hough said. “He’s very comfortable in every cap he wears on the ride. He’s very grateful for the support of the participants, and he makes sure everybody on the ride knows that. And he’ll sign and interact with the fans at every stop.”
To donate to the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America and the Victory Junction Gang Camp:
Text RIDE to 27722 on mobile phones to donate $10.
Donations also can be made at www.kylepettycharityride.com or by mailing a check to Kyle Petty Charity Ride, Inc., 125 Floyd Smith Drive, Suite 45, Charlotte, NC 28262.