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 > Little League Online > Media > Little League News Archive > 2010 > January - April > Shifting Gears: NASCAR Great Kyle Petty Builds on Life Lessons Learned in Little League to Give Back to Children

Shifting Gears: NASCAR Great Kyle Petty Builds on Life Lessons Learned in Little League to Give Back to Children

Shifting Gears: NASCAR Great Kyle Petty Builds on Life Lessons Learned in Little League to Give Back to Children

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The name “Petty” is synonymous with auto racing in America, so Kyle Petty knows the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship, but he got his first taste of success in Little League.

As a talented two-sport athlete throughout high school and then as a professional race car driver and team owner, Mr. Petty, son of racing legend Richard Petty and a successful driver in his own right, has parlayed past success into his current ventures as a business owner and TV personality.

“At some point, the sport runs out,” Mr. Petty said. “You get to the point where you need something to fall back on. You need the mental and educational power to be the best that you can be. On a bad day, don’t be discouraged by mistakes. That’s what practice is for. ”

As a child, Mr. Petty played Little League Baseball in the Randleman (N.C.) Southern Little League, where he quickly realized that being part of a team was about a lot more than winning and losing.

Little League taught Mr. Petty how to work with the rest of a group toward a common goal, which is the same goal he pursues today – Make your team the best. He’s seen first-hand how teamwork and sportsmanship can either make or break an opportunity, or a person.

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Kyle Petty, who played Little League in North Carolina, and his wife, Pattie, founded Victory Junction in memory of their son, Adam. Victory Junction Camps gives children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses an opportunity to experience camping in a medically-sound environment.

Even though Mr. Petty left the athletic fields soon after high school and set his sights on the racetracks, he took his commitment to sportsmanship and teamwork with him. He began his racing career in the ARCA RE/MAX Series at age 18, and a year later, became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he ran five races for Petty Enterprises in 1979.

“Compassion and sportsmanship transfer everywhere you go and become a part of your life,” Mr. Petty said. “It becomes part of who you are and everything you do.”

Now, as a parent looking back on his Little League experience, Kyle realizes that being involved in an organized sport gave him a base to build from as he grew up.

“As a kid, everyone wants to be a winner, but everyone doesn’t always win,” Mr. Petty said. “We always told our kids that some days you win, some days you lose. Some days you’re the best and some days you’re not. But, no matter what, be the best that you can be.

“Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to be, not only a gracious winner, but also a gracious loser,” Mr. Petty Said. “If you lose, congratulate the other team because they played just as hard as you did.”

Away from the racetrack, Mr. Petty sees teamwork in a different light through his charity work.

For the past 15 years, Mr. Petty has hosted the Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America that welcomes 200 riders each year on a 3,800-mile motorcycle trip across the country with the proceeds benefiting different charities. Today, Charity Ride benefits are earmarked for Victory Junction Camp that Mr. Petty opened with his wife, Pattie, in June 2004 to honor their son, Adam.

The Victory Junction Camp gives children with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses an opportunity to experience camping in a medically-sound environment.

Mr. Petty stresses the importance of teamwork from all of the volunteers and campers that attend the camp.

“The kids that come to camp have never played organized sports at all because of their illnesses,” Mr. Petty said. “They are so ill they can’t participate under normal circumstances. It’s fun to watch them become part of a team for the first time.”

Becoming part of the team at Victory Junction means playing baseball on the indoor baseball field built by NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, another former Little Leaguer.

“Playing sports is a great opportunity and life lesson because you are thrown in with a diverse group of, not only great athletes, but also great people,” Mr. Petty, a veteran of 29 years in professional motorsports, said. “While sports are a great social experience, education is the most important thing. You can play sports, but you have to get that education.”

Mr. Petty’s sportsmanship, compassion and strong teamwork skills have earned him many awards over the years, including the 1998 and 2000 NASCAR USG Person of the Year; NASCAR Illustrated’s Person of the Year in 1999 and 2000; and the National Motorsports Press Association Myers Brothers Award in 2004. In 2004, Mr. Petty also was recognized by USA Weekend Magazine as its Most Caring Athlete, along with fellow driver Tony Stewart.

The Petty family was named the 2000 “Persons of the Year” by NASCAR Illustrated for its charitable work. They were also recently honored at the 2009 “Evening of R-E-S-P-E-C-T” by the Big “O” Youth Educational Dream Foundation and the family of the late, legendary entertainer Otis Redding.

The 2010 NASCAR season opens in February with the Daytona 500, and Mr. Petty will be there as a member of the Turner Network Television (TNT) broadcast coverage.

For more information on Mr. Petty’s charities, please visit their websites: www.kylepettycharityride.com and www.victoryjunction.org.

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Kyle Petty (pictured above clapping), supports the campers by attending many of the baseball games at Victory Junction's "SuperDome." NASCAR driver and former Little Leaguer Kurt Busch, pictured below (fourth from left in the back row), has contributed to the Victory Junction Camps with the construction of the SuperDome indoor baseball field. The Pettys look to life lessons promoted through participating in Little League as a key element of the team activities at Victory Junction.

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