Kyle Petty OT Awards profile
By Jeff Louderback
Note: This was originally published in OverTime Magazine
Randleman, N.C. – Since the late Lee Petty finished second in the points standings during NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1949, the surname has been synonymous with stock car racing. “King” Richard Petty cemented the family as the sport’s first dynasty by winning 200 races in his career. Though he has not reached the same level of success as his grandfather and father, Kyle Petty has made his mark on and off the track.
The youngest Petty has competed in NASCAR for 27 years, amassing eight victories, 52 top-five finishes and 172 top-10 finishes. He placed third at the Coca-Cola 600 in May, his 797th start and his first top-five finish since 1997.
Yet even greater than his passion for racing, the third generation driver is more widely known for his charitable contributions, including the Victory Junction Gang Camp (www.victoryjunction.org), a retreat for children with chronic illnesses.
Years before Petty and his wife, Pattie, opened Victory Junction, he incorporated his interest in motorcycling to start the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America in 1994. This July – when more than 250 NASCAR celebrities and motorcycle enthusiasts make an eight-day, 2,800-mile trek from Bar Harbor, Maine to Hollywood, Fla – marks the 13th year of the event that has raised $9 million for children’s charities.
It was the early years of the Charity Ride when Kyle Petty’s son, Adam, started sharing his father’s fondness for helping others. During stops at hospitals, when his parents would donate large sums of money, the teen-age Petty saw first-hand the impact of giving.
The Petty family’s future charitable efforts were unknowingly shaped in 1998 when they embarked on a motorcycle trip to Camp Boggy Creek in Eustis, Fla., north of Orlando. The facility allows children with serious illnesses to participate in activities they otherwise would not have the opportunity to partake.
Touched by what he saw at Camp Boggy Creek, Adam Petty was determined to create a similar program in North Carolina. Petty started searching for land on which to build the camp. Sadly, he never had the chance to implement his vision, killed in a crash during practice for a Busch Series race May 2000 in New Hampshire. The Petty family was too stricken with grief to move forward on the project.
“We couldn’t think about building a camp. It was all we could do to take care of ourselves,” Kyle Petty said. “At one point, the concept of building a camp completely left my mind.
“Several months after the accident, I started getting phone calls from people all over the country. One guy wanted to build a YMCA in honor of Adam, and a hospital wanted to build an Adam Petty wing,” Petty added. “The calls kept pouring in. At that point, Pattie and I knew what we had to do. We had to build a camp in honor of Adam.”
Nestled amid a hardwood forest on 72 acres of land in Randleman, N.C. donated by Richard Petty, the Victory Junction Gang Camp debuted in 2004 for children 7-15 with chronic medical conditions. The facility, which is supported by donations from corporations and individuals, is composed of 44 buildings, including a water park, a gymnasium and a four-lane bowling alley among other recreational venues. The camp’s centerpiece, Adam’s Race Shop, which is housed in a 6,000-square-foot building constructed in the shape of Adam Petty’s No. 45 race car.
Since opening, the facility has hosted more than 4,500 campers free of charge.
“When you lose someone young, it totally imbalances the order of life. Things aren’t the way you thought they were going to be,” Kyle Petty said. “The healing process was to build a place where other families could come and other kids could come and when they left they would say, ‘That’s a great place.’”
“When kids come to camp, they are able to do some things that you and I do frequently and take for granted, but they are doing them for the first time,” he added. “What I like to see are the kids’ smiles because Adam had such an infectious smile. We want the children here to take a little bit of Adam with them when they leave.”