The moment Kyle Petty ended his 500-mile stock car race at California Speedway earlier this year, his cross-country motorcycle race started.
Petty and several of his friends from the motorsports community make the annual two-wheeled trek from Southern California to North Carolina to raise money for children's hospitals and camps. It would be easy for Petty, the third generation driver from the sport's most-famous family, to simply write a check to Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, but Petty wanted to give his most precious commodity his time.
He's not alone. Dale Jarrett is committed to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Mark Martin has raised more than $100,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Jerry Nadeau do work for the Bone Marrow Foundation. Geoffrey Bodine has spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars working with the U.S. Olympic bobsled team. Driver Jeff Purvis and car owner Joe Gibbs work through team sponsor Porter-Cable to help provide wheelchairs to uninsured or poor children in Western Tennessee.
Ward Burton and Wally Dallenbach have strong ties to wilderness issues. And every driver on the NASCAR Winston Cup and Busch series has spent countless afternoons walking the halls of hospitals.
The highlight of the charity season, however, remains the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, especially because it attracts the interest of other racers. This year's ride included racing legend Harry Gant; drivers Tim Fedewa, Ken Schrader, Lake Speed and Steve Park; and car owner Bill Davis.
''It's a charity ride, and we go from California to here and that's a big deal,'' Petty said once the sojourn was complete. ''But what's special about it to me is things like when we stopped in Tulsa (Okla.) to get gas. This woman was on her way to work, and she saw us and stopped and gave us $10 because she knew what we were doing.''
Petty, like others in the business, often mixes compassion with action. Helping others, it seems, is a way to help find some inner peace far away from the intoxicating elixir of burning octane and blinding speed.
This year's charity ride was special for another reason. Petty was joined by his father, Richard, and his son, Adam, as the tour left California.
By the time the caravan of riders hit the finish line at the Petty ranch near Level Cross, N.C., they were 150 strong.
Five days later, Adam Petty, 19, was killed during a practice session at the New Hampshire International Speedway.
Kyle Petty last week decided to honor his son's memory with another charitable project. The Victory Junction Gang Camp, a retreat for seriously ill children, will open near the family's farm. It will be part of Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camps, joining similar camps already in operation in Connecticut, Florida, New York, California, Ireland and France.
The Victory Junction Gang Camp, scheduled to open in 2004, got off to a fast start with a $50,000 contribution from The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp Fund and another $50,000 from the Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary.
Jarrett and his wife, Kelley, have been honored for their work with breast cancer research. The Jarretts and his racing sponsor, Ford Credit, were given the Jill Ireland Award for Voluntarism last year after Jarrett generated $112,500 in donations to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Ford Credit pledged $10,000 for every victory, $7,500 for a second-place finish and $5,000 for a third-place finish or a pole position. Jarrett won the Winston Cup Series Championship in 1999, and that earned breast cancer research the $112,500 donation based on performance and another $62,500 based on recognition of the Jarretts' commitment to the project.
This year, Jarrett's performances have been worth another $97,500 heading into Sunday's Checker Auto Parts/DuraLube 500 at the Phoenix International Raceway.
Since 1998, the Jarretts and Ford Credit have given the foundation more than $500,000.
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