Race Weekend Central

Kyle Petty Cherishing Year of Reflection, Celebration & Anticipation

Kyle Petty has had a front row seat to his family’s legacy and presence in the sport.

Between himself, his father Richard and his grandfather Lee, they have combined for 268 wins and 10 NASCAR Cup Series titles. This legacy continues into 2024 in a milestone year, as the Petty family celebrates its 75th year of racing.

The family’s legacy also extends off the track. Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride Across America has embarked on its 28th journey while the Victory Junction, which was founded by Kyle in honor of his late son Adam Petty, is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Petty sat down with Frontstretch in April to discuss his upcoming Charity Ride, what the Petty family has contributed and how humbling it has been to watch everything come full circle on and off the track.

Luken Glover, Frontstretch: You have the Charity Ride coming up soon, the 28th anniversary of it. What are you most looking forward to?

Kyle Petty: I think stopping places. This is our 28th Charity Ride. Should be our 30th, but [COVID-19] kind of got in the way a little bit. All of those previous 25 years [before COVID], it was about where we started and kind of where we ended, and we drove past so many places never getting a chance to stop and see anything.

This year, we’re leaving Deadwood [S.D.], going to Mount Rushmore, and then we’re going through Nebraska. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m pumped about going across Nebraska. We’ve been to a lot of places, but not really through the entire state of Nebraska.

Then from North Platte [Neb.] to Omaha all the way to Bettendorf, Iowa, which is on the Mississippi [River]. So we’re going to stay on the Mississippi, we’ve never done that before. Then we’re going to stop in Indianapolis at the racetrack, we’re going to stop at Churchill Downs, we’re going to stop at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Ky., and we’re going to stop at Bristol, Tenn., at the speedway there and have breakfast.

It’s cool because I’m looking forward to seeing the Corvette Museum, going to Indianapolis with a group of people where some of them have been there while some of them haven’t. We’re going to Mount Rushmore with this group. I think that’s the big deal. We’re going on a sightseeing tour, so that’s what I’m most looking forward to.

Glover: This year feels extra special because you have the 20th anniversary of the Victory Junction, the Charity Ride and you’re celebrating 75 years of the Petty family in NASCAR. How cool is it to have all of that tie together?

Petty: It’s amazing, honestly, it is. The camp didn’t miss a beat. Obviously, NASCAR didn’t miss a beat when COVID came.

If it had worked out, it would be 20 years for camp, 30 years for the ride and 75 years for the family. That would have been really cool. It’s cool that it’s all happening this year, it’s a big year. We’ve been able to do the hat program at each and every racetrack with my dad, doing some of that at each racetrack and promotions that we have really for the latter half of the year.

The Charity Ride takes up the first half of the year, and camp takes up the middle part of the year for summer camp. It’s really special. You don’t really plan this stuff, and then one day you wake up and they’re all on the same cycle. That’s pretty cool too that it has all worked out that way for us to celebrate everything and have one big year of celebration.

Glover: When you go back to when y’all started the Victory Junction, and you look at the Charity Ride and you look at you and your in family in racing, could you imagine how much it has expanded and how much of a legacy has been established?

Petty: No, I don’t think you even think about things like that. It’s so funny because you go back, and my grandfather started racing to make a living. That’s why he raced. It was something that was just there for my dad, myself and Adam when he came along, and it was something we loved.

But in the beginning, it was let’s make a living and get to the next race, make a paycheck and move on to the next race. For us, let’s go to a race and try and win a race and move on to the next race and try to win a race.

Camp was the same thing. When camp started, you had no idea whether it would last the next year, you were just excited that it would last one year.

And that’s the same way that the motorcycle ride was. When we started the motorcycle ride, it was like, “It will never get better than this.” […] And here we are 30 years later doing the same thing.

I don’t think you think about it that way, but it’s just fascinating the things that resonate with people. They are entertained by racing. They feel like they are a part of something much bigger than themselves by the Camp and the Charity Ride, because it’s giving back to a community, it’s giving back to people.

I think people want that, you want that opportunity to be able to help someone out. In a lot of ways, that’s why we’re put on Earth, to help each other and other people. It continues to humble and amaze that people come back to camp every year or ride motorcycles every year. It just fascinates me.

Glover: What are you looking forward to most throughout the year celebrating your family’s history?

Petty: I think a couple of things. We have a YouTube channel. It’s really in its infancy, but I think it’s going to be an important part, not only this year, but moving forward, because all through the year we’re sitting with my dad and we’re getting stuff.

Listen, if you don’t know Richard Petty’s story by now, you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 75 years. The interesting part is, he will be 87 [years old] this year, and there’s still personal stuff and stuff about growing up, going to the racetrack with my granddad, stuff about my uncle Maurice and my grandmother in those early years that no one is ever asking. They only wanted to know about the wins, they only wanted to know about the championships.

We’re going through the museum and picking up items that the fans have sent in or things that he’s won. It’s so funny, as we go back from the time Richard Nixon was president in the late ’60s, we’ve got photos of Richard Petty with every sitting president. At some point in time, he’s visited the White House or been with them […] The Congressional Medal of Freedom hangs in a cabinet where there are some model cars built by kids sitting right under it. The juxtaposition of the Congressional Medal of Freedom next to something a fan sent in just kind of describes who Richard Petty is.

There are events around races, especially as we get to the second half of the year. Things that my granddad had done, things that my uncle Maurice had done where we want to celebrate his accomplishments. In all honesty, he won more races than Richard Petty did. He won races with Pete Hamilton, Buddy Baker and all of that. He built more winning engines than Richard Petty won races, so there’s a lot of history that comes out of that.

Glover: You had a cool moment at Richmond Raceway in 1986 with the Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip incident. Just to refresh our readers, I believe you said you would have earned more money for finishing fifth than winning the race?

Petty: Yeah, they used to play a pool. We all could have gotten in trouble probably.

So if you go back to that time, Bill Elliott was winning all the races. So instead of picking a car to win, all the teams that played in the pool took their own car. We drew a number out of a hat, and whoever finished third won the pool, whatever car finished fifth won the pool, And if no car in the pool won, it was a bit of a rollover.

We had picked fifth that day, we were running fifth and we should have finished fifth. We were all mad because they all wrecked and we thought we were going to finish third. Obviously, I’m running fifth, so if [positions] one and two wreck, we jump two positions.

After we rode around another lap for caution, I remember Eddie [Wood, crew chief] coming over the radio and saying, “Hey, I think we’re leading this thing.” And then he said, “I think we’re going to win this thing.”

See also
Waid's World: The Remarkable 1973 Cup Season for David Pearson, Wood Brothers

I have always joked with those people up there that all I ever wanted to do was win a Cup race and win a trophy because my dad had won so many of them. When you won Richmond in 1986, they gave you a plaque, it’s not a trophy. It’s a cut-out of the state of Virginia that hangs on the wall. I said it so much that a couple of years ago they gave me a base for mine so that I could display it like a trophy.

Glover: Obviously, NASCAR had the Netflix series this off-season, and so far, we’ve had a ratings increase in almost every race. How do you like the momentum of the sport and how do you think it will continue to grow?

Petty: I don’t know if the Netflix thing can be measured. How many people are tuning in because they saw Netflix? I have no idea. What I believe is that the product on the track has been good this year, and maybe a step up from last year. I look at Daytona, I look at Atlanta, good races. If I look at Phoenix, pretty decent race. Bristol with that tire wear, I look at COTA at the end of the race, there was drama something happening. So I think it’s the product that NASCAR is putting on the race track, and that’s all that really matters. In the end, all that matters is if you have a good product, people will come and see it […] It’s like in my book Swerve or Die, you’ve got to be able to swerve or you’re going to become irrelevant. I think NASCAR is still relevant, especially in motorsports and in America.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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Johnny Cuda

good interview Luken!

wildcatsfan2016

Thanks for posting this article on your interview with Kyle Petty. I found his book online. I didn’t realize he had written one until I saw it in your article. I’ll add it to my collection of racing books.

I realize this is off topic but in anyone is interested in reading books written by other racers, I recommend Ken Schrader’s book “Gotta Race”. It was a book that I enjoyed a lot.

DoninAjax

You can add RIchie on Richie Evans and books on Bobby Allison and David Pearson.

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