Kyle Petty Charity Ride Tours the West

For the 26th time, after a two-year Covid absence, former NASCAR driver and current racing commentator Kyle Petty took his motorcycle Charity Ride to the highways of the West this May.

Since 1995, the ride has traveled all over America, raising more than $19 million for Petty’s Victory Junction as well as other charities that support chronically ill children.

This year, the seven-day Arizona-Utah journey took about 225 riders on a loop spanning some 1,500 miles – from Phoenix to Lake Havasu City to Flagstaff to Bryce Canyon to Monument Valley to Sedona and back to Phoenix.

American West joined up with the ride for about 60 of those miles – from the Hampton Inn on Lake Havasu through Sitgreaves Pass (elevation 3,586 feet), just on the other side of Oatman. 

We asked Petty – and his NASCAR legend father Richard Petty – about their earliest road trip memories, favorite trips over the years and what makes this Charity Ride so special.

“I was born in June of 1960 and went on a road trip to Daytona in July of 1960,” said the younger Petty. “I don’t have a memory of that, but that’s my earliest road trip. And I’ve been on the road ever since – with my dad going to races all over the country.”

“I started riding motorcycles while I was in high school then got out of high school and rode,” Petty continued. “I’ve ridden to Phoenix from North Carolina every year since the early ‘80s, so I’ve always been on the road.”

He recalled some of his favorites… heading from Milwaukee to Los Angeles with friend and soon-to-be NASCAR Hall of Famer Matt Kenseth; riding the border from Del Rio, Texas, all the way through Arizona with another racecar driver, Kenny Schrader; and many great trips with Click Baldwin and Don Tilley, both Harley-Davidson icons who tragically died in motorcycle accidents. 

In 2019, the Charity Ride went cross-country from Seattle to Key Largo. Right afterward, the organization made plans for 2020’s in the Southwest before Covid made other plans. 

“It’s so good to be here,” Petty said. “These people are such a good group of people to ride with. And so are the people we meet along the way. We pulled into this town last night (Lake Havasu City) and the parking lot was packed. 

“There were people lined up around the building for autographs and to talk about racing. I think that’s the fun part – the fans you meet and the people you meet along the way. But that’s the way it is even when I’m riding by myself. The coolest people you meet are the people at the gas stations or eating at a local diner.” 

Richard Petty felt similarly. “The big deal about this trip is we haven’t seen a lot of these people for a couple of years. It’s a big family,” he said. “At least half the people have been on these rides before.”

Like Kyle, he remembered his first road trip, too, not surprisingly racing related. It was also a family trip to the famous Daytona Beach, in either 1947 or ’48. (Richard’s father was NASCAR pioneer Lee Petty.)

“The next big deal I remember was driving a racecar from North Carolina to California in 1954,” he continued. “My dad raced and then we drove it back home. That’s how fast racecars were back then,” he added, alluding to the street-legal speeds of the old stock cars. 

“We used to make road trips across the country all the time,” Petty said. “We had a home in Wyoming, so we’d drive out there from North Carolina. All the places we’re going to on this trip, we’ve already been to. We come out – me and my wife, or sometimes we’ll bring some friends – and spend a week just riding around.”

That’s basically what the Kyle Petty Charity Ride is all about – a week “just riding around” with friends. American West followed the convoy, which included police escorts out of Lake Havasu City and onto I-40 to Oatman, into the quirky Route 66 town.

If you’re unfamiliar, Oatman is a true Old West village – a gold boomtown turned near ghost town turned tourism oddity. It’s best known for the wild burros that roam the streets. The mayor of Oatman was on hand to greet the Pettys and fellow riders. Technically, Walter was on hooves since he’s a donkey.

Racing fans gathered to meet and greet with the Pettys and other racing fixtures along for the ride, including Harry Gant and Hershel McGriff. They signed autographs, sold hats and other merchandise to benefit the charity and everyone was treated to an Old West gunfight.

And just like that, the group was back on its way to enjoy the blue skies, sunshine and open roads of the West.