You might think driving a race car and riding a motorcycle have something in common. But that’s not really the case, according to Kyle Petty — who has done a lot of both.
“Everything is offense in a race car, where everything is defense on a motorcycle,” he said. “A dog is going to run out in front of you, someone is going to be texting and not see you.
“So many people assume the people who like motorcycles ride with reckless abandon and are all daredevils, but that’s not it. It’s all calculated. There’s an understanding for the limits.”
Petty has been riding a motorcycle in some form since he was 5 — his father felt it would give him respect for speed — and continues to do so at age 56. On May 13, Petty will embark on the 23rd annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America — a weeklong ride of more than 2,400 miles where 200 participants will raise money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.
The ride has yet to repeat an entire route, and this year is no different. It will start in Portland, Ore., and make stops in Washington, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota before ending in Wisconsin.
But coming up with unique routes is actually pretty difficult, because the logistics for putting on an event like this are crazy. Local authorities have to be informed all along the way (think police escorts), and stops are planned every couple hours so riders can break for food and gas. Then there’s the matter of finding hotel rooms for everyone — often while the ride travels through rural areas — which has to be done months in advance.
“It’s like putting on five charity golf tournaments a day for seven days,” Petty said.
Petty’s wife Morgan is the one who makes the logistics work, and the two rent a car and drive the route backward before the ride to make sure everything is set.
This year’s ride will once again include Richard Petty — who still rides the whole way at age 79 — as well as NFL great Herschel Walker and former drivers Harry Gant, Donnie Allison and Hershel McGriff.
Obviously, raising money for Victory Junction — which offers children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses a place to attend camp for free — is the primary goal. The ride has raised $17.5 million for the camp since its inception in 1995.
But there’s also an incredible amount of satisfaction in seeing the response from people all over the country, particularly the small towns that would never otherwise dream of having famous athletes roll through the area and stop to sign autographs in a gas station parking lot.
“You’d think you had Elvis in town,” Petty said. “It’s like people come out to watch the elephants unload from the circus train.”