NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Kyle Petty Finds ‘Another Chapter’ of Life with Return of Music Career & Charity Ride

Kyle Petty may have driven his final NASCAR race 13 years ago, but he’s just as busy as ever. 

In fact, Petty’s in the midst of one of his biggest years professionally. In addition to returning as an analyst for NASCAR on NBC and host of Coffee With Kyle, he started another show for the Circle Network: Dinner Drive. The new venture just wrapped up its first season, and in addition to motorsports legends, it had celebrity guests that included Herschel Walker, Ric Flair, Darius Rucker and Pitbull.

Petty has also made strides in his resurrected music career, something he nearly pursued in the 1980s. Each week for a year, he performed a song on Instagram called “Quarantunes.” Then, he performed his song “Hard Times” at the legendary Grand Ole Opry back in June. 

Next week, Sept. 21-23, will be the revival of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, albeit a condensed version due to COVID-19 precautions. The riders will travel across Virginia and West Virginia with Hot Springs, Va., as the home base. In addition to Petty, his father Richard, NASCAR on NBC’s Rick Allen and former NASCAR drivers Harry Gant and David Ragan will join the ride. 

Petty caught up with Frontstretch to discuss his Grand Ole Opry experience, getting back to his music career, the success of Dinner Drive and the plan for the Charity Ride.

Michael Massie, Frontstretch: You’ve had a pretty big year this year, professionally speaking. You’ve had your new show Dinner Drive come out as well as more Coffee with Kyle, more NASCAR on NBC coverage, bringing back the Charity Ride. But I think the coolest thing you did this year was perform at the Grand Ole Opry. How did that come about?

Kyle Petty: It came about because of Dinner Drive on the Circle Network. ‘Country plays here,’ that’s their tagline for Circle Network. And so when we we started talking to Evan [Haiman] and everybody up there and we were talking music, and I said, ‘I play music.’ And they were like, ‘Well, man, maybe someday we can do something.’ And then they heard some stuff I did. And they were like, ‘Hey, would you like to play the Opry sometime?’ And I was like, ‘Shoot, yeah.’

It’s just the way everything worked out. We had our big press announcement and did a preview of Dinner Drive that week. The NASCAR teams were racing in Nashville, so it was a big time to be in Nashville, and I got to play the Opry.

So it was fantastic, it was amazing. I had played at the Ryman [Auditorium], and I think it had been on a Thursday night or something like that. But to play the Opry on a Saturday night — and that’s traditionally when the Opry always was; Saturday nights, people would tune in all over way back in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s and listen to it on WSM [Radio] — so that was a big deal.

Massie: How’d you feel about the performance? 

Petty: I was good with it, and I enjoyed it. And this is where I’m probably a touch different than other people that do music. Sometimes, I just perform for myself, and if I’m up there and I’m having a good time, it’s a good show, man. It’s a good show. And that’s kind of the way it is.

So I had a good time. My wife Morgan was with me. We’re backstage, so you’re walking by and you’re seeing all the history back there from Roy Acuff and Minnie Pearl … So you get that real cross-section. It’s a lot of history backstage, and then you get to go out and you play.

So it’s kind of like going to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and walking around, seeing all the history and then getting to drive one of the cars. It’s kind of like that in a strange way. Because then you get to go out on stage and do it.

Massie: That’s what I was thinking. You’re at this stage or this show, that all these guys like Hank Williams, and Willie Nelson, all of them have played before. And I know you’ve had experience going 200 mph at Daytona International Speedway, you’ve played shows before, but were you nervous at all going into this? 

Petty: Oh, yeah. Because you step out on that stage, I don’t care who you are, you think about that. Hank Sr. stood there. Little Jimmy Dickens stood there. George Jones stood there, Johnny Cash and June Carter stood there. You try not to think about it, but you do think about it.

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And this is not something that you’ve done your whole life. I was a racecar driver. That’s what I did. So people look at you and they say, ‘Well, it’s a racecar driver. What’s he doing out here doing this?’ But then when you start, if they forget you’re a racecar driver and they say, ‘Man, that’s pretty good,’ then you’ve done something.

I think a lot of times in this country or a lot of places, we pigeonhole people. It’s like, oh, he plays baseball, he can’t play golf. He can’t write a book. He can’t do anything else. All he can do is play baseball. And that’s not true. If we did that, we say that [Ernest] Hemingway was only a hunter. He couldn’t write. People can do two different things.

So I was nervous being out there just because of the history of the place.

Massie: During the COVID-19 quarantine, you started this thing called ‘Quarantunes.’ You did that once a week for a year. Do you have any future plans for that or any of those songs that you did during that? Because that’s 52 songs right there.

Petty: Yeah, I got a lot more than 52 songs. I can tell you that. Some of those songs during Quarantunes, I would write them from one week to the next and I would just throw them out there just to say, ‘Hey, what do you think? Give me some feedback.’

And I got great feedback from people. Got great feedback on, ‘Man, I don’t like that,’ or ‘You need to change this,’ or ‘Quit singing these sad songs, man.’ That kind of thing.

But I would like to do something with them, yes. The guy that I’ve been working with is Dolph Ramseur from Ramseur Records, and that’s the label that the Avett Brothers are on. They’re distributed by other people, but he’s their manager. I’ve been friends with Dolph, he’s a big race fan. So I met Dolph through racing. I’ve been working with him. We’re working on some stuff. So that’s been pretty cool.

Massie: At one point, you did have a record deal with RCA Records back in the 1980s. Whatever happened with that? There was no Kyle Petty album, was there?

Petty: No, we went in the studio, we did some stuff. And I had been doing the music at that point in time, probably for a couple years. And I loved the music. And I explained it this way. Dale Earnhardt Sr. loved to hunt. Loved to hunt, man. And you talk to him, and he was so passionate about it. But he loved driving a racecar more and that’s what he felt like he was born to do. And man, he’d get up at 3:30 in the morning, go sit in the deer stand and then come to the racetrack and practice and qualify on a Friday or Saturday. And nobody thought anything about it.

I started doing music, and people were like, ‘Oh, you can’t do music and you can’t race.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s the same thing as deer hunting. It’s just a passion. It’s something I love. It’s something I enjoy doing.’ I look at it just like Dale looks at hunting.

Then I got a record deal. I was doing some stuff, and things were beginning to take off. And one day, I woke up and I was like, ‘Oh, I got two jobs. I don’t need two jobs.’ And I love music so much, but I had dreamed of being a racecar driver since I was five years old and watched my dad. And I realized I loved racing at that time in my life more than anything in the world. And that’s what I wanted to do, and I didn’t want to hate music at some point in time, because it was a grind, because it was another job.

So I just left and didn’t go back. … So that deal kind of went away. And now that I’m retired and don’t drive a racecar and am fortunate and have TV shows and other stuff, I’ve got time to do stuff. So I’ve started playing different places and going around. This is a another chapter of my life.

Massie: Dinner Drive just wrapped up its first season. As a guy who grew up when NASCAR was mostly like a regional sport, did you ever think that you’d see a show where a NASCAR driver, let alone you, would interview people as famous as like Herschel Walker, Ric Flair or Pitbull?

Petty: No, when I came along, my dad raced and all those guys, it was a Southeastern sport. And in the ’90s, early 2000s, it began to grow into a different place. But man, to think that we would get to a point … I could be at a point where I could sit down with, yeah, Mario Andretti. That’s good. I can do that. Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. I can do that. But to sit down with Davis Love III, Herschel Walker, Pitbull or Darius Rucker, you start throwing guys like that in, that’s a different level, man.

It was a lot of fun to sit with each one of those guys, listen to their stories and let them tell bits and pieces of their stories on how they got to where they’re at.

Massie: Do you know if there’s gonna be a season two yet?

Petty: We are full steam ahead working on season two. I hope and pray that Circle picks it up. All indications are, yes, that there should be a season two. It’ll be different. Now I got to scramble and find some other people that want to talk to me. So that’s good. That’s gonna be fun.

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Massie: So the charity ride is back this year after a little bit of a hiatus. It’s kind of a condensed version, shorter, less distance traveled due to COVID-19 precautions. So you picked spots in Virginia and West Virginia to ride to. Can you explain why you picked the spots you picked? 

Petty: We had been to the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., a couple of times. We send out a survey every year of places that our riders would like to go back to, and the Homestead is constantly in the top three or four. They just like that area. Our riders like the roads up there, they like the people, the people that work there were just so accommodating and gracious to all of our riders. A lot of people have great memories of the Homestead.

So we got to looking around and we said instead of going from place-to-place-to-place-to-place, let’s just pick one place and do a out-and-back [ride]. … So we’re at the same hotel all the time, where on the big ride, we go from one city to another city to another city across country. So number one, that’s different.

So then we looked and we said, ‘Well, how far do we want to ride?’ And we kind of said let’s do a tank of gas, and a tank of gas is probably 200-220 miles. So we looked around, and the first place we found was the [National] D-Day Memorial. And it was like, man, what a great place. We have so many people whose fathers served in World War II. In our group of riders, we have people that were in the military in Vietnam, Afghanistan that ride with us.

Then we said Seneca Rocks, [WV]. We will go north, and then we will go west. Once we went north, we went west. So we went west to the New River Gorge Bridge. So basically, I think our longest day is 215 miles. It’s like 107 miles one way and 107 miles back, something like that. So it’s different. And we only opened the ride up this year to riders who had ridden in the past, because we have a safety course that we do for all new riders and we just didn’t feel like we wanted to introduce anything new into the mix. And after two and a half years of not riding, that’s why we called it a revival. We’re bringing everybody back together in a tent revival at the Homestead and going to get this thing charged up for the next 25 years. So it’s different in so many ways, but we’re excited.

Massie: Now when when you guys are at places like that, like if fans wanted to meet up with you the D-Day Memorial, they could come and go through it with you? 

Petty: We have autographs that I’ve signed, my dad’s [Richard Petty] signed, David Ragan’s signed, Harry Gant’s signed, just autographed pictures, photos. And if you come, we’ll give you one of those. And then we’re going to take socially distanced pictures, where we’ll stand in an area and then you can stand in front of us and we’ll take photos and stuff for everybody. But we want fans to come out. We’re following all the COVID protocols with masks and socially distancing. But we still want people to be able to come and say, ‘Hey, there’s Richard Petty,’ or, ‘There’s Harry Gant, and I got to see him.’ So, yes, everywhere we go, we want people to come out.

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