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By Tommy Keeler Jr. - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Two-by-two, bikers taking part in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride came roaring through Winchester on Monday. They stopped by Grove's Winchester Harley-Davidson for a pit stop and some lunch as many area fans cheered them on and attempted to get autographs.
The group was there for approximately an hour, and Petty, a former NASCAR driver, spent most of his time signing autographs for the fans.
The charity ride started 17 years ago with Petty and three of his NASCAR friends. They decided to ride together to different NASCAR tracks during the season.
Now the Kyle Petty Charity Ride spends a week each year riding across the country on motorcycles. This year's event started Saturday in Lake Placid, N.Y., and continues to this Saturday in Amelia Island, Fla. Typically, Petty said they ride from east to west, but decided to go north to south this year.
Petty said the reception he gets from fans along the ride is amazing.
"We're coming through rural New York, rural Pennsylvania," Petty said. "We're coming through areas where NASCAR fans live, and they're rabid NASCAR fans. People are out on the side of the road in every small town you come through, and they're waving you on. And that means a lot to the drivers."
In 2000, Petty's son, Adam, died in a crash during a Busch Series practice. Four years later, Petty formed Victory Junction in honor of his son. Victory Junction is a camp for terminally and chronically ill children. The camp is free and is open year-round in Randleman, N.C.
The Kyle Petty Charity Ride takes donations, with the money going toward Victory Junction as well as other charities.
"It's become a major fundraiser for the camp," Petty said. "This is a big event for us."
Over the years, Petty has had many different celebrities ride along in the Charity Ride, including golfer Davis Love III and NASCAR drivers Tony Stewart and Geoff Bodine. Former NBA player Brad Daugherty will be joining the riders in a few days, and Bodine and former NFL star Herschel Walker were both with the group on Monday.
It's the seventh year in a row Walker has taken part in the ride. Walker said he used to have 14 motorcycles, but he didn't use them very much.
Walker is a big NASCAR fan, and said he was at a race when he heard Petty's wife, Pattie, talk about the event. Walker said he decided he wanted to take part in the event, but was told by Pattie Petty that his bikes wouldn't make it.
"I went back to Dallas and I was asking my motorcycle guy and he was like, 'Yeah, those bikes you got won't make it', and he said, 'You got Starbucks bikes,'" Walker said. I said, 'What do you mean by Starbucks bikes?' He said, 'You can ride them to Starbucks and back home.'
"I was fortunate at that time to have some people donate me a motorcycle to ride on the ride. From then on, I've been getting a motorcycle donated."
Walker, the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia who is now a professional mixed martial arts fighter, said he has visited the Victory Junction camp. Walker said the camp is one of the main reasons he continues to join the ride every year.
"I absolutely love it -- to do a ride like this and also to be able to give back," Walker said. "The motorcycles do all the work, all we do is hold on. If you get a good seat, your butt won't be as bad."
Petty said there are many ways for people to donate to the charity ride. They can do it online at the camp's website, or they can even make a pledge on their mobile phone by texting the word "ride" to the number 27722. A $10 donation will be charged to your phone.
Anyone who would like to ride in next year's Kyle Petty Charity Ride can do so by filling out an application on their website, www.kylepettycharityride.com.
There are plans for another Victory Junction camp to be built in Kansas City, Kan. Petty said the riders don't have a set number that they are trying to raise, they just want to raise as much money as they can.
"The idea is all about raising awareness for Victory Junction," Petty said. "Raising awareness for children's charities. At the same time, hoping people will open up their hats and their pocketbooks and donate so that we can send kids to camp."