(Photo: courtesy Kevin Kane Photography)
It's logged thousands of miles over two decades, but it's never started on the sands of one ocean and ended on the shore of another. That will change this year, when the 20th edition of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride embarks upon its first true coast-to-coast trek.
And the finish line is an appropriate one: Daytona Beach, Fla., a motorcycle haven that also happens to be the birthplace of NASCAR.
"The best place for us to come back to is Daytona," said Petty, an eight-time race winner on NASCAR's premier circuit, and now a television analyst. "With all the race stuff there and what Daytona means, it's just perfect. It was the best place for us to go."
The 20th anniversary Charity Ride will travel 2,800 miles, beginning May 3 in Carlsbad, Calif., a town on the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego. Over the next seven days the caravan of motorcyclists will wind its way from Tucson, Ariz., to Austin, Texas, to New Orleans, finishing May 10 in Daytona Beach. Started in 1995 out of informal rides Petty and some other motorcycle enthusiasts in the NASCAR industry would make between race weekends, the event has raised $14 million for children's charities.
Since 2004 the primary beneficiary of the ride has been the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., an escape for chronically ill children founded by Petty after his son Adam was killed in a crash while practicing for a Nationwide Series race in 2000 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The ride raises money through riders' fees and sponsorships.
Due to the anniversary, Petty said this year's event will be one of the largest in some time, with roughly 120 riders taking part. "So many people who rode the fifth ride, or rode the 10th ride, or rode that first ride have come back and said, 'We want to ride this year,' " he said. There are about 10 people who have made the ride every year, 18-time NASCAR race winner Harry Gant among them.
Among those who plan to participate in this year's event are former NFL great Herschel Walker, a regular on the ride, as is 18-time NASCAR race winner Geoffrey Bodine. Former racer Donnie Allison will take part in a portion of the ride this season for the first time, Petty said, while his father, seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, and 2003 Sprint Cup Series titleist Matt Kenseth also plan to take part during a few days in the middle of the week.
Over its first 19 years, the ride has taken a number of different routes -- venturing east to west from Washington state, San Francisco or Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to Randleman or Savannah, Ga., or north to south from Maine, Lake Placid, N.Y., or Traverse City, Mich., to Miami or Key West. But it had never started with riders leaving from the Pacific Ocean and finishing at the Atlantic, and the 20th anniversary ride presented the perfect opportunity to do just that.
"We got to looking at it, and we said, 'Here's what we're going to do -- we're going to go ocean to ocean,'" Petty said. Riders will depart Carlsbad on May 3 heading north, he said, with the Pacific on their left. On May 10, the final leg from Tallahassee, Fla., to Daytona will swing over to the coast around Flagler Beach, and the convoy will roll south down to Daytona Beach on State Road A1A with the Atlantic on its left.
"It amazes me that we've never been ocean to ocean," Petty said. He's equally amazed that the Charity Ride has now been rolling along for two decades -- and raised $14 million in the process.
"It's crazy," he said. "I never thought it would go this far. Never."
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