WINCHESTER — “I came back to see if everything was OK.”
Richard Petty, who served as sports marshal of last weekend’s 91st Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, returned to the area Wednesday evening as part of the 24th annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America. The cross-country motorcycle ride is a benefit for Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., a year-round camp that serves children ages 6 to 16 with chronic or life-threatening illnesses.
A massive turnout was on hand when the riders rolled into Grove’s Winchester Harley-Davidson at 140 Independence Ave. in Frederick County.
“I don’t know how many people are here,” Richard Petty’s son, Kyle Petty, said while signing autographs and posing for photos.
Prior to Winchester, the biggest turnout of fans along the route was earlier in the day at the Harley-Davidson motorcycle factory in York, Pa.
“They probably had a hundred people, a hundred-fifty people, but nothing like this,” Kyle Petty said. “This is huge.”
More than a thousand people waited patiently in a line that wrapped around Grove’s Winchester Harley-Davidson to meet more than a dozen sports celebrities who were participating in the charity ride that started Saturday in Portland, Maine, and ends Friday in Greensboro, N.C.
Kyle Petty is a retired NASCAR driver, and his father is in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Joining them for this year’s ride were NASCAR legends Harry Gant, Hershel McGriff and Donnie Allison; current NASCAR driver David Ragan; former NASCAR driver and ESPN racing analyst Ricky Craven; former NFL player and 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker; Super Bowl XXII champion and 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers; and NBC Sports personalities Krista Voda, Rutledge Wood and Rick Allen.
In addition to celebrities, more than 200 motorcycle and racing enthusiasts are participating in this year’s charity ride.
“We gave them an escort in,” said Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Warren Gosnell. “About 225 motorcycles, probably about a mile-and-a-quarter long.”
Jimmy and Jen Cook, of Star Tannery, drove to Winchester to meet Gant, one of NASCAR’s most prominent racers in the 1980s and 1990s.
“He won four [races] in a row at one time in his career,” Jimmy Cook said, referring to Gant’s 1991 winning streak.
Farther down the line, Gant signed 14-year-old Jordan Welsh’s drawing of Richard Petty’s famous blue-and-red No. 43 car.
“That’s good. That’s real good,” Gant told Jordan.
Ronald Goedde, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., scored autographs from Kyle Petty and current NASCAR driver David Ragan.
“We’d like to meet them all if we could,” Goedde said.
Dave Stevens, of Frederick, Md., got Richard Petty to sign a 12-inch Richard Petty figurine he purchased a decade ago in Fort Myers, Fla.
“Beautiful,” Stevens said.
Richard Petty also signed a banner advertisting STP, his former NASCAR sponsor, that Sterling resident Charlie Reagle has owned for 49 years.
“My husband’s a big race fan,” said Reagle’s wife, Leah. “He’s been to the Daytona 500 many times and wanted to come out and meet some of the NASCAR racers and great football players that are here today.”
Herschel Walker, a premier running back with the Dallas Cowboys in the late 1980s, said he didn’t mind being in Washington Redskins territory.
“The Cowboys have to win a game somewhere, and winning in Redskins country is OK,” Walker said.
Even as more fans arrived and made the overwhelming autograph line even longer, the famous names associated with the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America kept smiling, signing and posing.
“We’re doing it for Victory Junction Gang Camp,” Richard Petty said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Kyle Petty established the camp in 2004 in memory of his 19-year-old son, Adam Petty, who had been killed four years earlier in a racing accident at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sunday will be the 18th anniversary of Adam Petty’s death, but along with mourning comes a cause for celebration.
Morgan Petty, Kyle Petty’s wife, is due to give birth in one month. It will be her first child and her husband’s fourth.
“Kyle has really watched out for me and taken good care of me,” Morgan Petty said, “and he’s making sure that I get my rest and get my sleep and that I eat every meal.”
With his wife so close to her due date, Kyle Petty, who lives in North Carolina, said he was happy to be back in the South.
“I did not want to have a baby above the Mason-Dixon line,” he joked.