As a third generation stock car racer, 47-year-old Kyle Petty has been around the sport literally all of his life. As a driver, Petty has competed in over 800 Cup races dating back to 1979.
Despite the passage of time, he still strives to be successful in the series – and gets frustrated when he isn’t.
Currently 38th in points, Petty let anger get the better of him a few weeks ago after a blown transmission and subsequent wreck at Watkins Glen. “I’m not going to disclose all the information,” said Petty’s son Austin a few days after the race, “but there was an incident between his fist and a wall and a broken bone.”
Sporting a splint on his fractured hand, which required surgical repair with a plate and pins, Petty made a stop in Phoenix Tuesday en route to this weekend’s Cup race in California. It will be his first time back in the car since sustaining the hand injury.
The purpose of Petty’s visit was to announce a new charitable partnership involving Phoenix International Raceway, the Victory Junction Gang Camp, and the Arizona State University College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation. The group’s first major event is the Kyle Petty Victory Invitational Golf Tournament, which will take place in Phoenix on February 28 and 29, 2008.
The golf tournament will benefit the VJG camp and the ASU College of Nursing, both of which focus on the cause of helping children in need.
While happy to discuss current topics in the world of racing, it’s clear from the glimmer in his eyes and lilt in his voice that Petty’s real passion is the Victory Junction Gang Camp – the North Carolina facility he and wife Pattie founded to honor their son Adam, who died in a racing accident in 2000.
Pointing to his injured hand, Kyle joked that a collaboration between racecar drivers and nurses is a natural match. But he also credited Phoenix International Raceway President Bryan Sperber for proposing the idea to “do something big” in terms of a joint fundraising effort.
That “something” grew into the charity collaboration and golf tournament. “PIR was one of the first speedways to really embrace the camp and embrace what we were trying to do,” said Petty. “We want this to be the preeminent golf tournament to bring racing, sports, and the medical community here in Phoenix together.
Michael Waltrip is the first racer confirmed for the tournament, but the goal is to attract athletes and celebrities from the NASCAR community and beyond, both locally and nationally. Kyle noted that more drivers will be announced once the 2008 Nextel Cup schedule has been finalized.
While the focus of Tuesday’s event was the new charity initiative, Petty also took a few moments to talk racing.
After a two-week absence from the car while his hand healed, Kyle said that he is looking forward to being behind the wheel this weekend at Fontana. “It’s feeling really good,” he said, indicating his splinted hand. “It’s been two weeks since I had the surgery and it’s healing really good. I can move it around a little bit.”
Petty is also pleased that the No. 43 car for Petty Enterprises has run up front lately, scoring two straight top-10 finishes for driver Bobby Labonte with new crew chief Doug Randolph. But he hastened to add that his car, the No. 45, also performed well with fill-in drivers Chad McCumbee and Kenny Wallace, who helped out during Petty’s recuperation. “The No. 45 car has run good. They just had bad luck. But both cars have been running a lot better on the racetrack. When you start running better, then you start finishing better – and we’re there now.”
Kyle is not yet sure what the future holds for him in terms of TV broadcasting, but indicated that he would like to do more. He served as a race analyst for TNT during six Cup races earlier this season, and received high marks for his work. “I was very fortunate to have that opportunity, and hopefully they’ll have me back next year. We’ll wait and see, but I hope so.”
Fresh off the circuit’s visit to Bristol last weekend, Petty shared his views on the Cup race that has divided fans over the issue of whether a new track surface, harder tire, the Car of Tomorrow, and the upcoming Chase combined to make a boring race. “You know, it’s funny. You talk to the drivers and it doesn’t divide anybody – the drivers loved it. The fans? They’re not sure about it. But I think we had a great truck race and a great Busch race. We just didn’t have a good finish to the Cup race. We didn’t have the great finish and it wasn’t your typical Bristol. But the drivers thought it was a great race and a great racing surface. It was a different type of racing than the fans are used to, but they’ll get used to it after a while.”
Getting back to the golf tournament, Petty said that the funds raised were not earmarked for any specific project, but would be used to send more deserving children to camp. “It costs us about $2,000 to $3,000 to send each kid to camp, and we pay all of the expenses for everybody.” The entire camp experience is free for the children and their families.
Victory Junction Gang Camp operates entirely on donations and welcomes children suffering from serious and life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, heart disease, spina bifida, burns and other conditions.
“We have big goals and big aspirations for this tournament,” said Petty. “Don’t think of it as just another golf tournament.”
The camp website is: www.victoryjunction.org.