The question is often asked: When will Kyle Petty retire from racing? The main reason he has lasted this long is the same motive he has for carrying on.
When 19-year-old Adam Petty was killed in 2000 during a practice run at New Hampshire, Kyle and Pattie Petty lost a beloved son, and Petty Enterprises lost its future. The fourth-generation driver was being primed to take the lead for the team, and to progressively replace his father in the then-called Winston Cup Series after another year of seasoning in the Busch Series.
The kill switch was mandated by NASCAR after Adam’s death, which preceded Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash at Daytona by nine months, six days.
Filled with grief but strengthened by his Christian faith, Kyle, already a full-time driver in the Cup series, stepped in the No. 45 Sprint Pontiac and finished the ’00 Busch schedule to allow Adam’s crew to keep their jobs for that season. Today, Kyle drives the No. 45 Dodge in the Sprint Cup Series, a car that was designed with Adam in mind. Great-grandfather Lee drove the 42, grandfather Richard the 43, and Kyle had driven the 44. The Wells Fargo sponsored 45 car is painted black whenever Kyle drives at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in memory of Adam.
For the second time in two years, Kyle is on hiatus from NASCAR racing while he covers six races on television for TNT. The 45 is being shared by un-retired former champion Terry Labonte and raw rookie Chad McCumbee. With the majority sale of Petty Enterprises to Boston Ventures, Kyle has stepped down as company CEO and devotes more time to running Victory Junction Gang Camp, a race-themed medical camp built in Adam’s memory for young people ages 7 – 15 who have special needs. VJGC houses and treats children and teens with chronic and life-threatening illnesses, physical infirmities, and other handicaps. The $24 million, 65-acre facility in Randleman, N.C., was founded in October ’00 and opened around June ’04, offering eight one-week sessions free of charge. Millions in seed money have been donated by NASCAR drivers, race teams, various businesses and corporations, and by race fans.
The camp was Adam’s idea. He and his mother discussed the venture almost a year before his death. His parents are carrying out his wishes as they honor his ongoing legacy. With the majority sale of the race team, Kyle can now devote more time and energy to overseeing VJGC, building more camps, and becoming more active in the Richard Petty Driving Experience schools.
When Kyle stops racing for good, for the first time in 60-plus years there will not be a Petty driving for Petty Enterprises. Having someone else direct the business side of the company frees him up to build another VJGC in Wyandotte County near Kansas City, he says. If that works out, more camps may come. Tony Stewart recently donated $1 million in proceeds for construction costs in Kansas City after he won the Prelude to the Dream, an exhibition race at his Rossburg, Ohio, track in early June.
In the meantime, Kyle continues to drive for his first-born son. He races for Adam.
June 21, 2008
By Mel Kizzidek