One on One with NASCAR Analyst Kyle Petty

Despite not having set foot in a stock car since 2008, Kyle Petty still remains a huge part of the NASCAR scene as an NBC Sports analyst as well as a renowned humanitarian. The eight-time Sprint Cup race winner’s legacy can also be linked to his family’s Victory Junction Gang Camp for children with terminal illnesses, opened in 2004 in honor of Petty’s late son Adam, who was killed in a racing accident in 2000.

Petty’s Charity Ride Across America, which is entering its 22nd year, has been an instrumental part in the growth of the Victory Junction Gang Camp, and will kick off on April 30, 2016.

SM: With the Charity Ride Across America entering it’s 22nd year, what are some things that come to mind regarding the ride?

Kyle Petty: Well, it’s hard to believe it’s been going 22 years. That’s the first thing. When we started it, it was just a group of us going to ride from California to North Carolina. We did it, we never thought it could get any better, but here we are 22 years later and still doing the same thing.

This year, we’re leaving from Palm Springs, California on April 30 and from there, we’ll be heading over to Phoenix and visiting with Manheim Auction, Manheim being one of our event sponsors. The next day we’ll be leaving Phoenix to El Paso and going by the Harley-Davidson dealership there where we’ll be having a big dinner, and on May 2 we’ll be traveling to Lajitas, Texas. The next day we’ll be heading to San Antonio, where we’ll be staying an extra day so people can have an opportunity to go around, visit the Alamo, and do some sight-seeing around San Antonio. On May 5 we’re going to Beaumont, Texas, and we’ll wrap up the ride the next day in Biloxi, Mississippi.

We’re excited. This is a route we’ve never taken before, so we’re looking forward to taking this route.

SM: What is the expected turnout for this year’s Charity Ride?

KP: We have about 120, 130 bikes. We try to keep it in that range, because being an eight-to-nine day event, obviously, we’ll be stopping in Lajitas and taking about 200 hotel rooms (which is basically all the hotel rooms there). We’ll be serving breakfast, lunch, as a group. We’ll be traveling as a group. We’ll be fueling as a group. So we try to keep our number of bikes down to 120 to 130. We’ll have about 200 people, we’ll have some support vehicles along with us and a medical staff that travels with us as well.

SM: Who are some names we can expect to see on this year’s Charity Ride?

KP: Well, my father’s going again this year (NASCAR Hall of Famer and seven-time Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty), I think he’s gone about 20 of the 22 years. Harry Gant (18-time Sprint Cup race winner) has gone all 22 years. Herschel McGriff (2017 NASCAR HoF nominee) is going with us for the first time. Donnie Allison (10-time Sprint Cup race winner) is going with us again. NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker is going with us, as is Rick Allen (NBC NASCAR Analyst) and Eddie Gossage (Texas Motor Speedway president). Rutledge Wood (Top Gear America host) may come in, we’re waiting to hear from him, but we’ll also be having retired Lieutenant Colonel Allen West with us as well.

That’s about the group of celebrities we know, but I’m telling you, the other 115, 120 riders that are going with us are the real celebrities that are going with us.

SM: Aside from the Victory Junction Gang Camp, are there other charities that are involved in the Charity Ride?

KP: No, you know, when we first started we used to stop at children’s hospitals all over the United States. We went to 20-something-odd children’s hospitals all across the United States. That was what the ride’s mission was. When my son Adam was killed in a racing accident in 2000, we decided to build Victory Junction. Since that time, the majority of the money, probably 98 percent of it, goes to the camp in order to give these kids the opportunity to come to Victory Junction and experience a medically safe environment and enjoy the camp at the same time.

SM: There have been discussions of possibly bringing the Caution Clock to the Sprint Cup Series. What are your thoughts on the Caution Clock in general?

KP: I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like it. I was born in June of 1960 and attended my first race in July of 1960, and I’ve been going to race tracks ever since. I’m a purist in the purest sense of the word. I think racing needs to be done on the race track and does not need to be manipulated by timeouts, time clocks, and fake cautions, and things like that. You got to be able to go out and kick everybody’s butt. If I’m kicking everybody’s butt and they throw a caution, that penalizes me and helps the people whose butts I’m kicking.

I don’t like the Caution Clock in the Camping World Truck Series, I dang sure wouldn’t like it in the Sprint Cup Series.

CONCORD, NC - MAY 27: Kyle Petty, driver of the #45 Coke Zero Dodge, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 on May 27, 2007 at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
CONCORD, NC – MAY 27, 2007: Kyle Petty, driver of the No. 45 Coke Zero Dodge, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

SM: Cup drivers running in the XFINITY events is nothing new and has been the basis for an age-old debate in NASCAR. However, it seems that with the constant domination by Cup drivers, this argument has reached a fever-pitch. Is the XFINITY Series facing an identity crisis?

KP: Yes and no. I think the XFINITY Series has its own identity with Daniel Suárez, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, and guys like that that are going to be future Cup stars that get their start in the XFINITY Series. I do believe it has its own identity because you’re watching future stars. Are they competing against today’s stars? Yes. Is that right or wrong? I’m not sure.

I don’t believe it’s wrong for Kyle Busch, or Brad Keselowski, or Joey Logano, or Jimmie Johnson every now and then, or Dale Junior to jump in and run a XFINITY race. It’s been that way since the beginning of time. I think what we see that’s different now than what we saw during those eras was that you had drivers that did that. Now you have owners that do that. You drop back to the XFINITY Series, the owners that are winning all the races are Jack Roush, Richard Childress, and Joe Gibbs.

So you have XFINITY drivers racing against Cup owners and Cup drivers. The deck is stacked totally against them. It wasn’t that way when Dale Earnhardt Sr. did it, it wasn’t that way when Darrell Waltrip did it. Mark Martin was the first guy to actually have a Cup owner as a XFINITY Series owner. I would rather see (NASCAR) back up and say, “Hey, you guys can run all the races you want to, you just have to drive for a XFINITY team. As long as you drive for a XFINITY team, that’s fine.”

That would give the XFINITY drivers more of a level playing field. Right now, I don’t believe the field is level for those guys in the way that it had been in the past. They struggle, but I think you get better as a race car driver racing against better drivers. And if you’re racing against Kyle Busch, you’re racing against the best. You’re racing against Joey Logano, you’re racing against the best. Guys like Suárez and Jones learn from those guys.

SM: Which rookie from the 2016 Sprint Cup class looks the most promising: Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney?

KP: Good question. I think they both have tremendous promise and tremendous potential. I think that goes back to what we were saying about the XFINITY Series a little bit because you got Chase Elliott driving for Rick Hendrick in the No, 24 car that Jeff Gordon won 96 races with. Obviously, it’s a winning race car.

You’ve got Ryan Blaney driving for the Penske organization basically; even though it’s tagged Wood Brothers Racing it’s still Penske cars and Penske equipment. I think when you look at that, those guys are maximizing their potential and maximizing their car’s potential. I think both those guys are pretty promising.

Another guy I’m going to throw in that mix is Chris Buescher. Nobody is really talking about him. He’s driving a car that’s underfunded, not up to the standards and capabilities of the No. 24 car or the No. 21 car, yet he is doing some good things in that car on a weekly basis. He’s finishing in the top-25, top-30, and that’s about all you can ask for from that team and that car.

Blaney and Elliott may get to Victory Lane sooner, but at the same time, once Buescher gets a ride he’s going to be a force also.

SM: Who are some surprises we could expect to see in this year’s Chase field?

KP:  You have to give a tip of the hat to two guys: A.J. Allmendinger and Austin Dillon. I think Austin has made tremendous progress this year. That team has made some progress as well. He’s running in the top-five, top-10, and having solid finishes. Because of that, he seems to be the leader of the Childress organization right now. I look at him and see that he could probably make the Chase.

As for Allmendinger, that group of guys has done a tremendous job this year. They are not a major organization like Roush or Hendrick; they are below that, yet they are still able to run with those guys and put together good solid runs and good solid finishes. I think he could be a guy that makes the Chase as well.

SM: Lastly, here’s a reader question: What’s the funniest/weirdest thing a fan has yelled at you from behind the booth while you were on or off the air?

KP:  We were in Watkins Glen last year doing the post-race show when this fan came up and he might have had a little bit too much to drink. He had a cane because he had broken his leg, and he kept waving his cane in the air and screaming at Joey Logano that he (Logano) got lucky. He kept screaming, “You’re lucky, Joey Logano! You’re just lucky! Lucky! Kevin Harvick should have won that race.” Harvick had run out of fuel on the last corner of the last lap.

He kept saying it and kept saying it. We had told him to be quiet when we went on air, but he kept saying it and finally I turned around in the middle of the program while we were on air and told him, “Lucky is I don’t come down there and beat you over the head with that cane. That’s what lucky is.”

So that’s probably the strangest or weirdest thing that has happened.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Joseph Shelton
Joseph Shelton
Husband to Stacie and Daddy to Dexter, Aeris, Meredith, and furbabies Lola,Tiny, Lucy, Genesis, Lily, Tommy The Cat, and Ace. Ardent race fan and serious Braves baseball lover.

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