Riders With A Cause

Back in the early 1990s, Kyle Petty and Robin Pemberton used to ride their motorcycles to the Winston Cup race in Phoenix, just for fun. A few other folks, like retired driver Harry Gant, rode along, too.

But then Petty and Pemberton started wondering. Why not try to raise some money?

“Robin and I were talking one night, and we thought what we really needed to do was do a bike-a-thon and get sponsors that would pay $1 for every mile you ride,” Petty said. “That was the original concept.”

But it has grown into something more, something a lot bigger. The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has its own sponsor, its own website and will raise close to $1 million this year for various charities, including the national charity, the Victory Junction Gang Camp started by Kyle and his wife, Pattie.

This year’s ride is well under way, as 200 motorcycles left Napa, Calif., near the site of Sunday’s Dodge/Save Mart 350 Winston Cup race, for a trip to Jackpot, Nev. by Sunday night. Monday, they were joined by Petty and rode to Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Later, they’ll travel through Cheyenne, Wyo., Omaha, Neb., Chicago, Cleveland and Hot Springs, Va., making various stops along the way, before ending up in Trinity, N.C. on June 30 for an Arrival Celebration and Concert feature country music stars Jo Dee Messina and Trace Adkins (tickets are $25, by the way, and you can buy them through Ticketmaster).

That’s the current concept.

“If you like to ride motorcycles, then the appeal is riding across country,” Petty said. “To say you rode across the United States on a motorcycle, almost 3,000 miles, is something most people will never be able to say. Once you do it two or three times, then the appeal is the group and the people who go on this ride every year. Harry Gant has been every year. Every year you throw in new people. Matt Kenseth is going this year, Jeff Green. Ken Schrader has gone the last two or three years. Terry Labonte is going this year.

“Throw in those guys and the other people, a couple of doctors, a couple of lawyers – we’ve got people from 32 different states going with us this year. When you look at it like that, those people like hanging out with the drivers, and at the same time they like riding across country.”

As the popularity of Winston Cup has grown, so has the charity ride.

“That first year we had 35 or 40 different riders,’ Petty said. “From then it’s grown to 150-200 riders this year. We have a huge waiting list. It’s strange because we’ve upped the price a couple of times. It costs us X number of dollars to do it. If you’ve got $10 and it takes $2 to pay for the rider, then we donate $8 to charity. We upped the price a few times thinking the waiting list would drop, but the waiting list keeps going up. I think right now it costs somewhere between $8,500-$10,000 a person to ride. Whatever is left over, when it’s all said and done and we pay for all of our gas and food and hotel rooms, all that money goes to charity.”

The main charity is the Victory Junction Gang Camp, but the STARBRIGHT Foundation, the Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary and several children’s hospitals will receive donations. Plus, on Monday’s stop in Alpine, Wyo. for lunch, Petty presented the local fire department with a $5,000 check.

“Last year they gave $650,000-$700,000 to charity,” Petty said. “It was pretty big last year. We’re still giving to two or three different hospitals this year. … The majority of the money, probably 60-70 percent of the money will go to the camp.”

Beyond the altruistic aspect of the trip, it’s become the social event of the early summer in Winston Cup.

“It’s a mid-season break, and we’ve got these people we’ve been friends with for seven years and we see ‘em once a year,” Winston Cup car owner Bill Davis said. ‘We might exchange cards or phone calls or something, but we basically see them once a year. It’s a real social thing. We go to nice places, and there’s entertainment along the way. We go to baseball games, rodeos; we’ve done some real neat stuff. We might ride 8-10 hours a day.

“It’s very tiring, but it’s a fun thing to do, and you’re with people you enjoy. We try to go scenic two-lane roads. Everything is very orchestrated. We stop about every 150 miles and go on.”

Davis has been riding motorcycles since he was a teen-ager, but his wife Gail was never very interested.

“She wouldn’t even ride on the back with me,” Davis said. “I had to beg her to go on the first charity ride. She decided to ride in the coach with Pattie Petty. We take off and rode down the coast. About five women rode that year. The next day we rode from L.A. to Las Vegas, and she wanted to ride on the back with me. The next day she rode to Phoenix. By then, she wanted a bike of her own.

“On her 50th birthday, she got motorcycle lessons and a motorcycle. Now she rides. She really looks forward to it. I had a kidney stone last year and didn’t get to go except the last three days. Gail came out and rode by herself.”

Staff Writer Lee Montgomery can be reached at lee.montgomery@rmg3.com

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002, Kyle Petty

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