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NASCAR star bikes for charity
By Kathryn Grondin | Daily Herald Staff

Andrea Kauth of Lombard gets her dress signed by NASCAR driver Kyle Petty as Erynn and Allyson McNamer, also of Lombard, gleefully compare their autographs. Elizabeth McNamer, in red dress, waits her turn. Petty and roughly 200 motorcyclists stopped at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center hotel on a cross-country charity ride for the Victory Junction Gang camp for chronically ill children.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

NASCAR star driver Kyle Petty manages a smile Monday after riding from Elkhart Lake, Wis., as he makes his way through the motorcycles to greet a crowd of fans at the Lombard Westin.

 

Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/15/2008 12:05 AM

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Dozens of suburban NASCAR racing fans got a rare chance Monday to give a little bump - though more often a hug - to driver Kyle Petty himself during his pit stop in Lombard.

Petty and 200 other motorcyclists are on a roughly 3,000-mile ride through the Midwest and the deep South to raise money for his Victory Junction Gang Camp for chronically ill children.

The Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America began as a lark 14 years ago, with some friends riding from San Francisco to a NASCAR race in Phoenix.

"A bunch of guys wanted to ride from California to Arizona. Our wives told us they'd all give us divorces," Petty said Monday. "So we turned it into a bike-a-thon."

Initially, the charity jaunt raised $20,000 to $30,000. Since 1995, more than 5,700 riders have logged 7.2 million cumulative miles and donated more than $10.5 million to children's charities. In recent years, the main beneficiary has been the North Carolina camp Petty and his wife, Pattie, founded in honor of their son Adam, who was killed on a racetrack in 2000. They aim to open a second camp in Kansas.

"He'd be incredibly humbled by it ­- what the fans have done, what the drivers have done," Petty said, referring to his son's likely reaction to the charity effort. "It's not our camp. It's everybody's camp. We've been blessed. Nobody ever dreamed it would go this far."

Charity rider Al Pearce of Virginia credits Petty for the success: "Nobody but Kyle could pull this off. He's done more for that camp than anyone could imagine. As a humanitarian, he's a hall-of-famer. He's mesmerizing. He makes you want to go through a wall for him."

NASCAR legend Harry Gant, supermodel Niki Taylor and retired NFL running back Herschel Walker are also making the eight-day trip.

"I grew up on a motorcycle," Walker said. "Here, you get to do something you enjoy and give back to the Victory Junction Gang. I've been blessed. This is my opportunity to help others. This is one of the best times I've ever had."

About 100 fans from throughout the suburbs and as far as St. Louis rolled out to show their support for the NASCAR star and his charity.

"I grew up around racing. My dad was a crew chief. My mom was timing laps and contractions at the same time," said fan Jody Bond of Mundelein. "What he's doing with Victory Junction Gang Camp is wonderful. The charity is incredible."

Bond's girlfriend, Judy Spoerlein of Arlington Heights, added, "We really wanted to bring our Harley out and ride with him."

Carol and Gary Wood of Villa Park couldn't pass on bringing their granddaughter Cheyenne Jaworski, 10, out to see their favorite NASCAR drivers.

"I've been a fan forever," Gary Wood said. "Richard (Petty) is the king and Kyle is the prince."

To donate or for details on joining next year's ride, see www.kylepettycharityride.com.