Megan Stanley’s mom had a surprise for her Saturday morning. Come on, she said, let’s go meet a former NASCAR driver.
The 13-year-old Coeur d’Alene girl looked awestruck when she found herself next to Kyle Petty, the 30-year Sprint Cup Series veteran. She got his autograph and had her photo taken with him near Independence Point.
“It was amazing! I love NASCAR,” said Stanley, who attends Woodland Middle School. “My favorites are Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick.”
Racing fans mobbed Petty outside the Coeur d’Alene Resort as he prepared to launch his 19th cross-country motorcycle ride to benefit Victory Junction, a North Carolina camp he helped establish for children with chronic illnesses.
Football fans were on hand, too, for photos and autographs from one of the charity ride’s biggest supporters, former NFL running back and Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker.
Petty, Walker and more than 170 other bike owners began this year’s ride in Coeur d’Alene and ended the day in Boise. Over the next six days they’ll make their way to Tempe, Ariz., covering more than 2,000 miles and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for Victory Junction.
Petty and his wife established the camp in 2004 in memory of their son Adam, who was killed in a NASCAR crash in 2000 at age 19.
“We see kids 6 to 16, and they’re at various stages of whatever their illness may be. We try to see the sickest kids that we can see,” Petty said in an interview Saturday before the ride.
The Randleman, N.C., camp is free to attend and serves children who have bleeding, immunologic, genetic or other disorders, as well as cancer, heart or lung diseases, cerebral palsy and many other medical conditions.
Walker has visited the camp several times and said he loves it. “Those kids have smiles on their faces. I think that’s amazing,” he said Saturday.
This is Walker’s eighth year riding to raise money for Victory Junction, and he said he’s reminded of advice from a former coach, Dallas Cowboys great Tom Landry.
“Coach Landry said years ago if you take something out of society, put something back in,” he said while signing memorabilia outside the resort. “To ride a motorcycle is easy; it’s not like I’m doing a lot of work. To have an opportunity to be a help to someone else means a great deal.”
Walker has a new bike built for the ride each year, working with Texas-based custom builder Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas. This year it’s “Angelica,” a fast, black, sleek Victory, with St. Michael the Archangel painted on both sides, though the one on the right closely resembles Walker himself.
“It represents how I’ve been blessed my whole life through the Lord Jesus,” he said.
The riders have become a tight-knit group over the years, Petty said. “It’s kind of like family. Everybody just knows everybody, everybody gets along,” he said.
They come from all over the U.S. and include doctors, lawyers and “guys like me that just grew up working on race cars. The cross-section of society is incredibly, incredibly vast,” Petty said.
Two new riders this year are Norman and Margie Smith, who rode six days from their home in Tennessee to join up with Petty. The husband-wife duo, members of the Dragon chapter of the Harley Owners Group in Maryville, Tenn., are on their 2013 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Limited.
“We’ve seen places we’ve never seen before – beautiful country,” Norman Smith said.
The charity ride also kicked off in Coeur d’Alene in 2006, and Petty said the group was eager to return to the Lake City this year.
“Overwhelmingly, Coeur d’Alene was the No. 1 choice,” he said. “It’s so pretty up here, and the people here are so nice. We’ve been some places, and I won’t name where they are, where they looked at you like you have four heads ’cause you ride motorcycles and you were in their town, know what I mean?”
But here, residents and shop owners embrace the riders, Petty said. “I bet there’s not a business on Sherman (Avenue) that our people haven’t been in because the people have been so welcoming,” he added.