Nothing Petty About This Hollywood (Fla.) Ending
Kyle Petty comes from a long line of legendary racers, but he takes a back
seat to no one when it comes to helping kids—as evidenced by his recent
appearance in South Florida, the final destination in his annual Kyle Petty
"We have been to this area before when we did some stuff with Homestead-Miami Speedway," Petty said of his work with a charitable precursor the current 2800-mile trek. "The Key Lime Ride, four or five years ago, when we'd ride through the state of Florida. We'd been through it, and we knew Florida was a good end for us."
In June 2004, Kyle and wife Pattie founded Victory Junction Gang Camp, a year-round camp located on 72 acres in Randleman, N.C., for children suffering from chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses. The Pettys opened the camp in honor of their son, Adam, who died in 2000 while practicing for a Busch Series race in New Hampshire. Victory Junction's mission: "to provide life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun, and empowering, in a safe and medically sound environment."
"I tell people all the time: Camp's kind of like Homestead-Miami, or any racetrack—it's a flat piece of asphalt with a bunch of empty seats," said Kyle, who just this weekend became only the sixth driver to make 800 or more starts in the Nextel Cup Series. "But you put a bunch of race cars in it and a bunch of fans, and it comes to life. And that's the way Camp is. Camp comes to life, and has a soul, and has a heartbeat whenever those kids are there."
That collective heartbeat revved up even more in July, when the Pettys were joined by nearly 300 motorcyclists in an annual trek of NASCAR celebrities, ride sponsors and cycling enthusiasts traveling from Bar Harbor, Maine, down to Hollywood, Fla., to raise funds for the Camp. Now in its 13th year, the Ride has logged upward of 50,000 miles in raising nearly $10 million—money that sends a lot of kids to Camp.
Money well spent, said NASCAR driver and Petty Ride motorcyclist Burney Lamar, who got a first-hand experience at Victory Junction during Day 5 of the week-long ride.
"The highlight of the Ride was the Camp," said Lamar, who met his wife, supermodel Niki Taylor, at a NASCAR/Victory Junction benefit last year. "Kids who don't look like you and I, they go to Camp and they forget [their maladies]; they're just like everybody else.
"It's like Pattie said: 'There's like 120 kids in the Camp, and all but eight of them had never gone swimming. Or had never been fishing.' And they went and did that and just had a complete blast. And you watch them enjoy and have smiles on their faces—amazing."
"You can't describe it; you've got to go see it yourself," added Taylor, one not prone to hyperbole, having graced more than 400 magazine covers, including Vogue, ELLE, Marie Claire, Self and Shape. "You go through the gates and you get goose bumps."
"This week the kids that were there were burn victims," continued the South Florida native (Pembroke Pines). "Some of them had never even ridden a horse; some of them had never gone fishing or had a food fight—you're allowed to have food fights. It's an amazing place, and just to see their smiles, that's it. That does it for me."
This year, the annual Ride broke from its traditional west-to-east route, opting instead to travel the East Coast from the woodlands of New England to the Blue Ridge Mountains before landing on the beaches of Florida. Petty and Co. were greeted at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino by tribe representative Max Osceola, who presented a $25,000 check earmarked to send more kids to Victory
And it won't be long before the driver of the No. 45 Dodge makes a return trip to Florida, where he hopes to replicate the good fortune he experienced in late-July just up the turnpike from the Speedway.
"I'll definitely drive at Homestead-Miami this year," Petty said of Ford Championship Weekend, slated for Nov. 16-18. "It's a fun place to race. I like the progressive banking—you can run high, you can run low. And you can find places to pass.
"I've driven on every track they've had there—every different configuration they've had—and I've had my best luck and my best runs on the latest configuration, so I'm glad they changed it to where it's at right now. It's a great track to race on, and it's only gonna get better the longer…the sun dries it out. It'll be a good race they're going to have there this year."
Kyle can, however, share one not-so-positive experience at Homestead-Miami….
"We came here to test one time, and I was training [to run] a marathon," he recalled. "I ran around the racetrack and thought, 'My God, I can't come to Miami and run the marathon; I'm slow.' So I run another lap, and I'm like, 'My God, I cannot run a mile in less than about 10 minutes.' And I come in and said: 'I'm slow! What's the problem with this place?'
"They said: 'It's a mile-and-a-half racetrack.' I said: 'You're kidding—I thought it was a mile!' It blew me away."
Look for Mr. Petty to be running his stock car, rather than his legs, at Homestead-Miami Speedway come November.
To learn more about the 2007 Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, visit www.kylepettycharityride.com. Here you also can make a donation to Victory Junction Gang, an affiliate of the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp co-founded by Paul Newman.
Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend (Nov. 16-18) are on sale now. The Ford 200/Craftsman Truck race is set for Friday and the Ford 300/Busch on Saturday; the weekend culminates with Sunday's Ford 400—the final race in the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup.
In addition to the races, Ford Championship Weekend includes the Ford Racefest extravaganza in Ft. Lauderdale—featuring live concerts, interactive exhibits, NASCAR drivers and the NEXTEL Cup trophy on display—as well as the Homestead-Miami Speedway Celebrity Golf Classic and Ford's "Bailando Por La Copa" ("Dancing for the Cup") salsa-dance finals.
For more information on Ford Championship Weekend and all Homestead-Miami Speedway events, log on to www.HomesteadMiamiSpeedway.com. For tickets, call 866-409-RACE or visit www.Racetickets.com.