Kyle Petty leads family’s annual charity ride

Former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty, right, appears at a charity motorcycle ride in Albany, N.Y., Saturday, May 5, 2018. Petty leads the ride every year in early May to raise funds for his Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. (AP Photo/John Kekis)

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) Another Mother’s Day at hand, another moment in time tinged with sadness for stock car racing’s first family.

It’s been 18 years since Kyle Petty’s son, Adam, was killed during practice for a NASCAR race at New Hampshire International Speedway. Just 19, Adam died on May 12, 2000, only weeks after running in his only Cup race, a debut that had made the Petty family the first four-generation family in NASCAR.

Adam Petty’s fatal crash came five weeks after his great grandfather, Lee Petty, died, so it’s understandable that this time of year is just different for the family.

”It’s a sad time,” Kyle Petty said Saturday after the first leg of his annual motorcycle ride for charity. ”I lost my mom four years ago. Adam passed away on Mother’s Day. It’s not a good weekend. It can be hard, but it’s what you make of it, how you come back from it.”

The Petty family has come back from Adam’s tragedy in a big way. A devotee of motorcycles, Kyle Petty started a charity ride in 1995 that originally was targeted to benefit children’s hospitals, but the family took it a giant step further.

Four years after Adam Petty’s fatal crash, they opened Victory Junction Gang Camp – on Father’s Day 2004. The summer camp, for children with life-threatening illnesses, is a way to honor Adam, who rode with his father on a couple of the charity rides before his death. Since its inception, the annual ride has attracted more than 8,175 riders and logged more than 11.9 million miles while raising $18 million.

”It’s always a tough time of year, but this is what we do, and we have a camp because of Adam,” Kyle said. ”That’s what this ride is all about.”

The trek Saturday began in Maine and included a stop at NHIS – and some laps around the mile-long oval – before the pack of bikers crossed into New York state.

”To go back to New Hampshire, it’s a little bitter that you have to go back to the racetrack,” said Kyle, who understandably didn’t take any laps. ”But it’s sweet that you’re going back for a good reason.”

For Kyle, now a television commentator on auto racing broadcasts, the ride also serves as a sort of catharsis.

”It’s incredible. You saw all the motorcycles,” he said. ”That’s incredibly gratifying.”

The annual trek normally starts somewhere on the West Coast, but this year, for just the fourth time, it’s going north to south through nine states and will last one week. It started Saturday in Maine and ends Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Among the more than 200 riders taking part are former NASCAR drivers Harry Gant, Donnie Allison, Hershel McGriff and Ricky Craven; current NASCAR driver David Ragan; and Heisman Trophy Winners Herschel Walker and George Rogers. Petty’s 80-year-old father, Richard, will join the ride after Sunday’s Cup race at Dover, Delaware.

The trip also will include a visit to Woodstock and victory laps at Pocono Raceway. Riders will get tours of the Martin Guitar Factory; a Harley-Davidson factory; Manheim in Pennsylvania, home of the world’s largest auto auction; and the Petty Museum in North Carolina.

”It’s awesome!” said Donnie Lamm, of Newbern, North Carolina, on the ride for the first time. ”I love it.”

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