SKANEATELES, N.Y. – It’s almost 11 years to the day since Adam Petty was killed during practice for a NASCAR race at New Hampshire International Speedway, and his dad never escapes a special feeling of sadness when May and Mother’s Day roll around.
“What goes through my mind at this time of year more than anything else is my personal loss,” Kyle Petty said as he prepared for the start of his 17th annual charity motorcycle ride. “When you lose a child or you lose a son, it’s pretty hard on a family. It’s a sad time of year, but being around people on the ride and being able to help people during this week has a little bit of a healing effect.”
Adam Petty, just 19, was killed 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.
Kyle Petty, a devotee of motorcycles, started his charity ride in the 1990s, and it normally has been a trek from the West Coast across the country. This year, for just the third time, the ride is going from north to south. It began Saturday morning in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the first day was to traverse the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, including a stop at Watkins Glen International, before ending in Corning, N.Y.
Petty and 175 motorcycle riders – including Brad Daugherty, former NASCAR star Geoff Bodine and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker – also will make overnight stays in Farmington, Pa.; Irvington, Va.; Wilmington, N.C.; and Mt. Pleasant, S.C., before completing the 2,400-mile trip in Amelia Island, Fla.
The ride originally was targeted to benefit children’s hospitals and has raised more than $14 million in 16 years. But four years after Adam Petty’s fatal crash – on Father’s Day 2004 – stock car racing’s first family opened Victory Junction Gang Camp, a summer camp in North Carolina for children with life-threatening illnesses modeled after Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camps.
The camp is a way to honor Adam Petty, who rode with his father on a couple of the charity motorcycle rides before he died.
“It’s funny how everything evolves,” Kyle Petty said. “We started with a charity ride visiting children’s hospitals, and when he passed away some people came up and said we want to do something to help remember Adam. It’s funny how the ride evolved into what it is because of him.”
The ride also serves as a sort of catharsis for Kyle Petty, now a television commentator on auto racing broadcasts.
“There’s so many great memories,” he said. “The best part of the ride is the fans that come out at the fuel stops. That’s the fun part because you know that instead of those fans coming to you, you’re going to those fans.
“The second-best part is just riding a motorcycle and seeing the country. When you’re in a car, you’re looking out the windows. When you’re in a plane, you’re looking down. When you’re on a motorcycle, you see everything.”
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