NASCAR’s Kyle and Pattie Petty had just been through a difficult day. It was nine years ago Tuesday when their son, Adam, was killed during a practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
But in a poignant coincidence, the Pettys’ grief turned to joy when they honored Adam’s memory during Wednesday’s groundbreaking for Victory Junction Midwest — a free, year-round camp for children ages six to 16 with chronic medical conditions — due to open in 2011 in Kansas City, Kan.
“It was a hard day,” Kyle Petty told a crowd of about 300 friends, sponsors and benefactors, “but what got us through yesterday, was to know in our hearts . We lost one son, but we’ve gained thousands of little girls and little boys who are part of our family now
“It’s only fitting that the day after his accident nine years later, that the birth of a new camp would come about, and we would see thousands of more people.”
The original Victory Junction was Adam Petty’s idea as a teenager. After his death at age 19, his grandfather, legendary driver Richard “The King” Petty, donated land in Randleman, N.C., where the original Victory Junction opened in 2004. More than 11,000 children have attended the camp, and the demand has been so great, the Pettys decided to build another Victory Junction in the Kansas City area.
The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., donated a 71-acre site on a wooded area on Riverview Road, and the ground breaking was held in conjunction with more than 200 motorcyclists stopping at the site as part of the 15th annual Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.
While NASCAR was represented in the Ride by 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth, former drivers Harry Gant and Steve Park and Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage; those from other sports and walks of life took part, including former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star running back Herschel Walker; PGA Tour regular Davis Love III; Chick-fil-A president Don Cathy; and Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Also among those at the festivities on Wednesday were three children — Breanna Gates, 15, and Hank Grissom, 13, Charlotte, N.C.; and Collin McCord, 12, Greensboro, N.C. — who have been among the 11,000 youngsters who have attended Victory Junction in North Carolina.
“How emotional a day this is for us, to see the fruition of a vision and for you to meet my heroes, my campers,” Pattie Petty told the crowd.
Gossage has visited the North Carolina facility several times and said: “I don’t think the people in Kansas have any idea what’s about to happen here, because it is truly a special place. I get emotional every time I roll into the camp in North Carolina.
“Richard Petty is the King of stock car racing, and I admire and respect him and look up to him. But Kyle Petty’s legacy to me, being the Victory Junction camp, is much greater than Richard’s legacy of 200 wins. At the end of the day, winning races is just winning races. But this is truly making a difference.”