WINCHESTER — There was a lot of love shown to the celebrities who showed up to Grove’s Harley-Davidson in Winchester, Virginia, as part of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America on Wednesday.
In return, those involved, including former racer Petty, showed love to the hundreds of fans who showed up and stood in line for hours to get autographs from the likes of “The King” Richard Petty, NASCAR’s winningest driver, fellow former racers Donnie Allison and Harry Gant, current driver David Ragan and NBC Sports personalities Krista Voda, Rick Allen and Rutledge Wood.
Also attending were former Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and George Rogers.
“The crowd was huge,” Kyle Petty said in amazement.
“We came here six or seven years ago, and they had a big crowd here. There’s a lot of race fans in Virginia, a lot of race fans in this area. It’s pretty cool to be here.”
The ride, in its 24th year, returned to the Shenandoah Valley after a seven-year absence, and it was the beauty of the area that brought the event back through on Day 3 of the 2018 version.
“Because it’s so beautiful,” said Kyle on why the event returned to the area. “We’ll leave here and go down through Shenandoah National Park, and it’s such a beautiful ride. There’s so many people from all over the country, from the West Coast, from up north and stuff, they don’t know how beautiful Virginia and North Carolina is, so this is a way to show it off.”
Since its inception in 1995, the event has grown substantially. As a result, it has raised millions of dollars for Victory Junction, a camp that was founded in 2004 in honor of Kyle’s son, Adam, and gives life-changing experiences to children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
“We were lucky if we pulled into a gas station if anybody recognized us when we did it that first year,” Kyle Petty said. “It’s gotten so big. It’s really pretty cool when you come into a place like this and see people lined up around the building. It’s pretty special.”
“I’ve been on this ride off and on for the past 10 years, and Kyle has been one of my best friends for the past 14 years, and to see the support that a town can generate and the thoughts and hearts that so many people can be here on this day is hugely special,” Wood said.
“These riders give so much time and so much money to Victory Junction to make a difference, and when you see this many wonderful fans that are out here supporting what we do, it’s a really special thing.”
This year’s ride began in Portland, Maine, on May 5 and is set cover 1,200 miles. The more than 200 riders participating will leave Winchester this morning and continue through Virginia, including Shenandoah National Park, en route to their final stop at Victory Junction in North Carolina on Friday.
Through it all, it’s the support of the race fans that makes the ride so special.
“Fans are the best part,” Kyle Petty said. “We went to the Harley factory, there were fans. We went to Pocono Speedway, there were fans. We get to see a lot. You stop and you ride the bikes and you do the stuff, that’s all cool, but the fans and the people you meet are cool. There’s a lot of good people here.”