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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Kyle Petty

Initially, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America just began as a way for a bunch of friends to travel the country. Since then, it’s grown exponentially, raising millions of dollars for the Victory Junction Gang Camp along the way. The 25th edition is set to begin in Seattle, Washington on May 3, taking riders nearly 3,700 miles across the United States, finishing off in Key Largo, Florida on May 9.

Recently, POPULAR SPEED caught up with Kyle Petty to talk about the charity ride.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts as you look towards this year’s ride?

KYLE PETTY: I think we’re really excited. Last year we did a little bit different variation of the ride, and I think our longest day last year was about 180 to 200 miles. This year, our longest day is about 470 miles. So it’s a totally different type of ride than what we did last year, but it’s really more of a throwback to our first year. It’s more closer to what we did the first year, and it’s going to be a long way from Seattle to Oregon.

PS: This year is the 25th anniversary for the ride. Did you ever think it’d grow to what’s become?

KYLE: No, never. Honestly, that first year we never thought we’d get to the second year to be honest, just because we didn’t know if we wanted to do it anymore. So we did it the first couple of years and then decided let’s make it to year five, then we’ll quit. Then it’s like let’s go to year 10, and we’ll quit – and here we are 25 years later and still doing it, still raising money for the Victory Junction Camp by still riding motorcycles across the country. I don’t think any of us ever envisioned we’d be this far.

PS: What’s been the most surprising thing that you’ve seen with it through the years?

KYLE: Honestly, I think the most surprising thing to me is the amount of people that continue to go with us every year. We’ve got a group of 10 people that have gone every year, but there’s about 30 or 40 that have gone 15, 20 years or more. I think that surprises me, because a lot of us started in our 20’s and 30’s, and here we are in our 50’s and 60’s still riding. That kind of surprises me a little bit.

But you know what – I honestly think what surprises me, and continues to, is along the way, when we stop, the amount of people that come out to just say hello and say we think this is a cool thing that we do. So I think it’s still the fans that kind of surprise me.

PS: The route for this year has been announced. What stop are you most excited for on the ride?

KYLE: Well, there’s so many. I think starting in Seattle – I’m excited about that because we’ve never left up that far north. Coming back down to Glenwood Springs, I’m excited about that because we’ve only stopped there one time and we had such a great time in that little town when we stopped there. Childress, Texas is the same. We stopped in that small town one time, and that town rolled out the red carpet for us, so I’m excited about those two places.

I’m also excited about Pennscola and being there, and I’m excited about Shreveport-Bossier City, because we’ve been there one time before. It’s hard to pick one place because a lot of these places we’ve been to one time before and the memories are like incredible.

You know when you have a good birthday party and you think you can do that again? I think we can duplicate what we did before, and we’re going to try.

PS: When it comes to the route, how do you go about choosing the direction that you and the group will go?

KYLE: Well, I just think we’re blessed. When the ride is over with, we talk to all the riders and say, ‘Where would you guys like to leave from next year?’ and they kind of say the pacific northeast, or northwest, or maybe the southwest. So we take that and then kind of decide where we want to stop.

This year, being the 25th, we’ve never gone from corner to corner like this. We’ve never gone from the pacific northwest to just about as far southeast as you can go to Key Largo. So we’ve never really done anything like this, so this year was an easy one as we decided to try something we’d never done.

PS: It’s been mentioned that you’ll have several new riders this year. With having done the ride for 24 years now, what would your advice be to them?

KYLE: Hang on. Just hang on because it’s going to take off and you’re going to have to keep up. I think the advice is – and it’s not as advice as this. When I sit with the new riders and talk to them, I say, ‘Listen, this is safety first. That’s the first thing. it’s all about being safe as we go across. Never ride above your ability. If you’re having an issue, tell us; we’ll stop and take care of it. Don’t worry about it. Don’t be ashamed to ride in the van for a while if you need to rest.’

But the main thing we tell them is you’re going to make friends on this ride that will be your lifelong friends, and I think that’s the big thing. We look forward to when new riders come because we know we’re adding people and friendships to our lives, and the lives of some of these riders.

PS: On top of being a great ride for everybody to partake in, what does it mean for you in seeing how much it has raised for the camp?

KYLE: I think, for me, I don’t put in dollars and sense but rather how many kids are able to go to camp. We’ve seen almost 30,000 kids at camp, and the charity ride itself is the directly responsible for a third of those because that’s how much we’re able to raise each year. So I think that’s the big thing for me, is it means everything for me to see these kids come to camp.

Fans can learn more about the Kyle Petty Charity Ride at http://www.kylepettycharityride.com/. 

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Short Tracks Belong In NASCAR – Many Say There Should Be More Of Them

Lately there has been much discussion about short tracks, namely; perhaps NASCAR’s sagging attendance and diminishing interest might be cured if it bothered to put more half-mile tracks on the schedule.

The argument is that the sanctioning body’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series is composed predominantly of superspeedways and, especially, tracks of a mile-and-one half in length.

There are three short tracks on the MENCS circuit, Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond, which means that of the xx races conducted each season only six are on short tracks.

It has become so after decades of NASCAR evolution. During the 1950s – the pioneer era – virtually every race (as many as 50 per season) was held on a short track in such far-flung places as Macon, Ga., and Ona, WVa.

But starting in 1959 things began to change. Daytona International Speedway was built and was followed in the early and late 1960s by Charlotte, Atlanta, Rockingham, Michigan, Talladega, Dover and Pocono.

The big-track phenomenon became so large it was suggested NASCAR become a “superspeedway” environment only. In other words, do away with the short tracks that existed at the time.

Bill France Jr., NASCAR’s president would have none of it.

Still the larger tracks gained a strong foothold with venue expansion in the 1980s. On board came Las Vegas, Kentucky, Kansas, Texas, Fontana, Phoenix, and Homestead – the majority of which were one and one-half miles in length.

They became known as “cookie cutter” tracks.

There were other additions not of the same mold. They were the road courses at Watkins Glen and Sonoma and the venerated two-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Still the new NASCAR landscape did not include any new short tracks. Long gone were Nashville and North Wilkesboro – one of the first tracks to become a part of the circuit – closed its doors in 1996.

Today, I believe the six short-track races are among the most anticipated of every season. One reason is rather obvious: They offer a different style of racing entertainment than we see on the larger tracks.

Raw speed is the selling point at the superspeedways at Daytona and Talladega, where the draft rules supreme.

None of the “cookie cutter” tracks is exactly the same. Each has nuances that provide for competition variety. But to observers that’s hard to determine. The racing looks the same and, they claim, it is predictably routine.

There are a couple things about racing on short tracks that have made them unique. Speed, for example, is not that prevalent except on the high banks at Bristol.

Instead it’s the inevitable jostling, the often-prevalent metal-to-metal contact – and the prevailing strategy that to gain position one driver has to unceremoniously shove another out of the way- that create short-track appeal.

It is a throwback to the way it used to be. And it is the reason why fans and competitors urge NASCAR never to drop its short tracks and even promote those whose weekly shows are not part of the MENCS circuit.

There are many examples of the style of racing fans enjoy at short-track events. Bristol, which just completed its first event of the season, has had more than its share.

So does Richmond, which is the site of this weekend’s MENCS event.

Richmond is perhaps the most unique speedway in NASCAR. It’s a handsome facility and is the only one three-quarters of a mile in distance.

It didn’t used to be that way. It was once a half-mile track surrounded by guardrails and wooden grandstands nestled in the Virginia State Fairgrounds.

But, like its short-track cousins, it could produce some wild competition.

A good example came in February of 1986. That year, in one of the most improbable finishes in NASCAR history, Kyle Petty won the first race of his career with the Wood Brothers.

He shouldn’t have. He was a distant fifth as the race came to its conclusion. With three laps to go, Darrell Waltrip, who had battled back from a lap down, shot past leader Dale Earnhardt.

Earnhardt, who by this time was establishing himself as a no-quarter driver, responded by clipping Waltrip’s right rear.

Waltrip crashed headfirst into the third turn steel guardrail – a potentially dangerous situation – that set off a chain reaction that gathered up nearly all the leading cars.

Only Petty survived and he went on to take the checkered flag.

As you might expect, there was bad blood.

“I like to win as much as the next guy,” Waltrip said, “but I’ve never tried hurt someone to do it.”

Said his team owner Junior Johnson: “It was like Dale put a gun to Darrell’s head and pulled the trigger.”

To be honest, every track has a story like that. But there are more of them – far more – that emerge from short tracks.

They should remain a part of NASCAR and I think they will.      

And then … perhaps, as many desire, there may be more of them.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS…… Kyle Petty

In what started out as a fun outing with friends, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride has grown into so much more over the past 23 years. The 24th edition is set to begin in Portland, Maine on May 5, taking riders 1,200 miles across the United States to raise money for the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

Recently, POPULAR SPEED caught up with Kyle Petty to talk about the charity ride, and it’s connection to the Victory Junction Gang Camp. 

POPULAR SPEED: With the reveal of this year’s Kyle Petty Charity ride route, how’s the excitement been?

KYLE PETTY: Really good. We’re excited about it. We went to Portland, Oregon last year so we decided to start in Portland, Maine this year. We thought we’d confuse all of our riders when we opened up and said that we were leaving Portland, they were ‘Oh My God, we were just in Portland last year’. But Portland, Maine over to Albany, across to the speedway there in New Hampshire, then Woodstock, Pocono, Nazareth, and Lancaster, and Shenandoah National Park, and then down to my dad’s museum, and then up to the Victory Junction Camp. It’s pretty cool.

We kind of laid it out to where we do two race tracks, two music related items, a national park, the Homestead – we’ve been there a couple places, and then my dad’s museum and the camp kind of ties everything back together. We’re calling it our Americana tour because everything seems to be only in America that you see these things.

PS: How did the charity ride come about initially?

PETTY: There was a group of us – myself, Harry Gant – just a group of fans that rode to Phoenix, Arizona. We used to do that and we thought, ‘Man, what if we did it cross country?’ We’d never been from California to back home. We had just ridden to Arizona and back home. We started talking about and let’s raise some money. That first year, we raised about $30,000 and stopped along the way and saw people in hospitals and things like that. We thought it’s greatest thing in the world and it’d never get any better than this.

Here we are 24 years later and we’ve raised $18.5 million, sent thousands of kids to Victory Junction Camp, and visited a bunch of hospitals along the way to help families pay their bills so it’s turned into something a lot bigger than the first ride where it was just a bunch of us wanting to ride across country.

PS: I know that there’s got to be tons of stories from years past. What’s one of those that stand out for you?

(C)KYLE PETTY CHARITY RIDE

PETTY: I don’t know. There’s so many. Terry Labonte rode with us one year. There was a group of his fans that drove four or five hours out to the middle of the desert because they knew we’d be coming through that area. There was not a store anywhere, and they were just standing on the side of the road and the whole ride stopped to talked to them. We’ve been to Austin, Nevada, and went to place in Wyoming last year and the entire school let out – ages K through 12 – which being a small school, it’s about 80 people. In Austin, Nevada, it was about 18 people. It’s been interesting to see the cross section of America and meet people whose lives are different than what we live and do, but at the same time, to meet people. I think the people are the stories, the people that you meet along the way.

PS: For someone who is thinking about taking part for the first time, what’s your advice to them?

PETTY: If you’re up for adventure, if you’re up to meet new people, and if you’re up for making friendships that will last a lifetime, this is what you need to do because it is the people that participate in the ride, the people that we meet along the way – it’s just fun. My advice is just do it because so many people see things and think 20 years later they wished they would’ve rode across America on a motorcycle, or I wish I would’ve gone to camp and saw those kids, and helped them. 20 years on, it’s hard to look back and do it again. But if you do it when you think about it, I’m telling you, grab a motorcycle and join in.

PS: What does it mean for you to have seen the growth over the years, and support for the camp?

PETTY: The Charity ride and watching it grow has been phenomenal, because it was just something that I loved to do – ride motorcycles. To watch what it has grown into, it’s like watching a child. You have all these hope and all these dreams, and all of these expectations, and when they come true, it’s amazing; when they far exceed anything you dreamed of, then it’s more amazing. That’s what I think the charity ride has been for me personally. At the same time, building the camp after I lost a real son, and knowing the potential he had and what he could do, and what his life meant to these kids that come to camp.

We’ve seen 28,000 kids come through camp in 14 years, and I think we’ve seen 7,000 – 10,000 kids directly because of the donations of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride. So it’s pretty amazing to see how these two things have joined together to do good for other kids and families. I tell people all the time – I lost a son, but I felt like I gained 28,000 other kids that are apart of my family.

PS: When you were opening Victory Junction originally, how did you come to the decision to build a camp?

PETTY: I had been to camp in Florida called Boggy Creek and I had driven a couple racecars with Paul Newman, who started the original The Hole in Wall Gang Camp. When Adam’s accident happened, Adam and I had talked about a camp and building one in North Carolina for kids. When his accident happened and he was killed, then it was the perfect timing. The timing was right, the seed had already been planted and began to grow, so that’s what we did. The idea came from a lot of different places and when you recognize that someone is trying to tell you something – meaning God is trying to tell us to build a camp and so many things happen, you start a camp.

(C)KYLE PETTY CHARITY RIDE

PS: The Victory Junction Gang Camp has done tons for kids over the years. What does it mean to you to have given back so much to them?

PETTY: Number one – we just raised our hand and said we were going to build a camp. The Pettys – Kyle Petty, Richard Petty – the Pettys did not build camp. The Pettys were just people standing out in the middle of the field by themselves with their hand up in the air saying, ‘Hey, can you guys come help us build camp?’ Bobby Labonte, Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart – those guys, plus their legions of fans that came and donated and helped build camp. The thousands of volunteers that we’ve had help maintain camp. Camp to me is – I’m just the caretaker. It’s not my camp; I’m just the caretaker.

I think we all have pride and I think sometimes you look at it and say, ‘Man, look what we built.’ We didn’t build anything – thousands of people built it. At the same time, we don’t do anything for those kids; they do everything for us. When I see those kids come to camp and they’re in a wheelchair, or they have crones, or a blood disorder, and you see them catch a fish for the first time or ride a horse, or play in the water park, then you realize this is pretty cool. These kids are just being kids. So you get that from them. I don’t think they get anything from us – we get everything from them.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

Categories
News

Good News for Wood Brothers is More Than Skin Deep

The Wood Brothers Racing team was at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday to introduce the 1987-themed throwback paint scheme that Ryan Blaney will drive in Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Blaney’s No. 21 will carry the same blue and white colors that Kyle Petty’s 1987 Wood Brothers Ford Thunderbird raced three decades ago. Like most of the Darlington throwback schemes, this one is a winner.

But the good news for the historic Wood Brothers team goes even deeper than that.

Team co-owners Eddie and Len Wood said Tuesday that the team is fully sponsored for next year and beyond, when Paul Menard will take over for Ryan Blaney, who is moving to Team Penske.

Menards, a Wisconsin-based chain of about 300 home improvement stores, will be the primary sponsor of the No. 21 for 22 races next year, while Motorcraft and Quick Lane Tire and Auto Centers will be the primary sponsor for the remaining 14 races.

At a time when sponsorship dollars are hard to come by, that’s significant news.

“That’s really a big deal for us,” said Eddie Wood, co-owner of the team. “Putting that together with the Menard deal that we announced a few weeks ago makes us full-time for a period on into the future. You’re not out wondering if you can get enough funding to do this and that. You concentrate on racing. I can’t thank all the people at Ford enough.”

And that’s exactly what they will do at Darlington this weekend, for the throwback race. And the Petty paint scheme brings back a lot of happy memories.

“It’s a special time for me,” said Wood. “Probably the most fun that Len and I had in our entire careers was this time frame with Kyle.”

Petty concurred.

“For me, throwback cars are throwback cars,” said Petty, now a commentator on NBC. “But when the Wood Brothers said, ‘We’re going to do a throwback car and use yours’, that was a big deal for me. These are the first guys I drove for when I left home. So there’s a huge connection for me to Eddie and Len and all the family.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty on NBC Pre-Race: “No Fluff and Puff”

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Expect the NASCAR on NBC pre-race shows to be both engaging and unfiltered when they start later in the summer thanks to the additions of Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty.

Much has been written about the new NBC play-by-play squad of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte but the tone of the broadcasts will be set prior the drop of the green flag due to the analysis and opinions that emanate from Krista Voda, Jarrett and Petty.

While it has some degree of mass market appeal, the NASCAR on FOX pre-race show featuring Chris Myers and the Waltrip brothers has been oft-criticized as fluffy and overly engaged in comedy rather than the dissection of major league stock car racing.

While there is a place for that, both Jarrett and Petty promise to present something a little more serious when their broadcasts start in July at Daytona International Speedway.

“I really think there is an opportunity to do some different things this season,” Jarrett told Popular Speed last week at the NASCAR Media Tour. “One of the reasons I say that is that I’m working with someone I’ve know since we were kids in Kyle Petty.

“And even though we’ve known each other since we were kids, and competed against each other, we’ve remained good friends who somehow have two totally different views on how things should be or how we see the sport.”

Jarrett said that he and Petty are not going to be afraid to challenge each other in the pre-race booth and that the fans are going to benefit from these likely exchanges.

“He may think I’m off my rocker sometimes and he’s going to say that to my face,” Jarrett said. “But I’m going to take that knowing exactly how he means it and not be afraid to challenge the way he looks at it too. We’re not going to look for those opportunities every time we’re on TV together but we’re going to be willing to express it when they come up and the fans are going to be the winners.”

Petty says to expect a lot of hard-hitting content on NASCAR America — the NBCSN’s daily show — and especially on the pre-race show where he gets to banter with Jarrett and Voda.

“It’s not going to be fluff and puff,” Petty said. “That’s not what our pre-race show is. We’re going to get into some stories and do some things that are hopefully different than what we see on the other networks with the laughing, joking and stuff.

“Look, there will be levity and light moments but when you tune into a pre-race show you want to know what is fixing to go down or what happened last week and how that is transferring over to what you’re about to watch. It’s going to be an informative 30 minutes to an hour to get the casual and hardcore fan up to date before the broadcast.”

Petty has always been one of the most outspoken and critical members of the media since retiring as a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver back in 2007.
Many fans believe that Petty would be a perfect fit for a revival of the ‘Pit Bull’ show that once aired on SPEED back in 2004 and was unafraird to take NASCAR or its ‘stakeholders’ to task on any given debate.

Primarily featuring journalists David Poole, Mike Mulhern and Marty Smith, the program has since drifted into cult status among NASCAR diehards after its cancellation before the 2005 season.

When asked about a similar show possibly premiering on NBC, Petty said it was unlikely.

“There is a market for it, but it would be on something like PBS,” Petty said. “Lets be honest, no one wants to watch an hour of Charlie Rose in primetime. No one wants to watch Frontline in prime time. But if you do, you can go to that network and that is where that’s at. Race fans? Most race fans just want to see what someone has to say about Brad Keselowski or what Kyle Busch said on a given topic or what Jeff Gordon said. They want the soft stuff.

“There is a group of fans that care about the drivers or the hard hitting stuff and stuff that could change the sport, but it’s like anything. That group is a select group and it’s tough to reach that group in any consistent way.”

With that being said, don’t expect the fluff and stuff to take over NBC based on the talent or those involved in the production room.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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