December 6, 2002 | 7:00 A.M. EST
Kyle Petty, son of seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Richard Petty, was presented with the 2002 March of Dimes Sportsman of the Year Award at the March of Dimes 11th Annual Sports Luncheon, held at the Waldorf-Astoria's Grand Ballroom.
The award punctuated a season of competitive resurgence for the younger Petty, who drives the No. 45 Sprint Dodge.
Petty finished this season 22nd in the NASCAR Winston Cup championship standings, riding the crest of a remarkable consistency over the balance of the 36-race season. The key statistic: Petty failed to finish only one race.
Of course, Petty has become synonymous with more than racing. His annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America (on motorcycles) has raised over $3 million for children's charities across the United States. In honor of his late son Adam, Petty and his wife Pattie are in the process of establishing the Victory Junction Gang Camp for seriously ill children.
That sort of thing was the "bell-ringer" for the March of Dimes, said NASCAR President Mike Helton, who spoke at the luncheon.
Petty, Helton pointed out during his speech, is the first NASCAR competitor to receive the March of Dimes award.
"Kyle," Helton said, "is truly a great ambassador for all sports. He has had a great deal of success over the years [in racing], but what he is best known for throughout the sport is using his fame to help others.
"In professional sports the product is the sport itself. The success of the sport depends on the character of those who choose to participate in it. Motorsports, in particular NASCAR, has been fortunate to have the Petty family members as participants... Kyle has elevated the Petty name to a new plateau."
Tony Stewart's New York Tour
"I really didn't think I was going to enjoy this week at all," Stewart said, chuckling. "You know, dealing with the media for five days in a row... I thought I'd be on suicide watch by now. But that's been great and we've been having a lot of fun this week. The only think I don't like about this week in New York is [wearing] suits and ties. I've found out I can spend a lot less money without suits and ties."