When more than 175 motorcyclists participating in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride stopped at Krispy Kreme in Hampton on Wednesday, Adam Petty was on the minds of many. The approaching anniversary of Adam's death during an accident in a Nationwide Series practice on May 12, 2000, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was part of it.
But the annual Charity Ride often evokes memories of Adam, because he was such an unforgettable part of the event in its first five years. In fact, Adam became the inspiration for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, which the Charity Ride helps fund.
"Adam rode on this before he really had a license," his mom, Pattie Petty, said. "But we figured he was driving at 200 mph at Daytona (International Speedway), and he'd been riding a motorcycle all his life, (as) all my kids had.
"We went to Boggy Creek (in Florida) and looked at a sister camp. We'd been to a lot of hospitals and Adam said, 'I don't just want to give money to hospitals. I wanted to build something. I want to make children happy.'
"So when we got to Boggy Creek, he came flying up beside me and said, 'This is what I'm talking about! I want to build a place like this and put smiles on kids' faces.' "
Following Adam's death, Kyle and Pattie transformed Adam's vision into the Victory Junction Gang Camp that has, since 2004, brought smiles to the faces of thousands of terminally ill and chronically ill children. Charity Riders talked this week about the legacy left behind by Adam personally and as a stock car driver.
As a fourth-generation driver in one of racing's most famous families, many felt Adam would carry on the tradition started by his great-grandfather Lee Petty, who won the first Daytona 500, grandfather Richard Petty, winner of a record 200 Cup Series races and seven titles, and father Kyle, who won eight Cup races. He inherited Richard's and Kyle's upbeat personalities.
Brad Daugherty, NASCAR television announcer and car owner, and former NBA star: "My recollection of him was always of his smile. I remember him as that kid with a contagious personality who always made you feel good.
"Anytime I got to the race track, back when I was playing basketball, he'd say, 'Granddaddy's over here,' because he knew I was a big Richard Petty fan. So I'd always go over with him to see Richard."
Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway: "I think about him pulling up beside me (on the Charity Ride) with that big Petty smile, clowning on the motorcycles."
Kyle Erickson, Charity Rider and motorcycle dealer: "He was the happiest-go-lucky guy around. You could go up to him anytime on the ride, shake hands and talk to him."
Darrell Andrews, shop mechanic for Kyle Petty's Cup team: "The big Petty smile and the very positive attitude stuck out for me."
Observers realized quickly that Adam's good-natured humility was sincere. He was born into racing royalty, all but guaranteeing his entry into NASCAR's highest levels, but he never acted like it.
Al Pearce, Auto Week racing writer and former Daily Press reporter: "I remember anytime there was a gas stop (on the Charity Ride), he would be filling other people's motorcycles before he did his own. And if there was an occasion where people were waiting to be fed, he'd say, 'I'll get you something. Do you want a salad? Do you want a desert?'
"You don't know what kind of racer he was going to be, but you know he was going to be a good guy. If you ask his family, I think they'd tell you they preferred that."
Geoff Bodine, winner of the 1986 Daytona 500, learned, after sustaining multiple broken bones and a concussion in a horrific Truck Series crash at Daytona in 2000, knew just how good a guy Adam was.
Bodine: "After my 'little' accident at Daytona, I was in the hospital and there were people coming in who couldn't believe I was alive. I remember Kyle, Pattie, Richard and Adam visiting.
"They were getting ready to leave, and I'll never forget this: (Adam) came over, put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Man, everything's going to be alright. You ever need anything, give me a call.' You never forget that."
Already a regular in the Nationwide (then Busch) Series in 2000, Adam would run his first, and it turns out, only, Cup race that April. He qualified 33rd, ran in the middle of the 43-car pack much of the day, and finished 40th following engine failure, As a longtime friend of the Pettys, Gossage is proud that Adam ran that race at Texas.
Gossage: "The odd thing is that Kyle didn't qualify for that race. Looking back, Kyle got to spot for him and watched him race every single lap, where he wouldn't have if he was driving his own car. So you feel that the good Lord had a hand in that. That's a great memory Kyle has, just that one race."
Adam's career, and life, would end five weeks later, at age 19, when the throttle stuck on his car and he crashed into the wall during practice at New Hampshire. Those who knew him think he would've become a star.
Daugherty: "He had a heck of a future in front of him. It's no telling how good he would've been, but I think he was one of those special Joey Logano-type kids."
Bodine: "Richard told us he thought Adam would be the best of the (Petty) bunch. We'll never know how that was going to go, but that's what The King thought."
Gossage: "He would've been great. He would've been competing today with the Jeff Gordons and Dale Earnhardt Juniors."
For Kyle Petty, the Charity Ride and anniversary of Adam's death blends with so many other memories.
Kyle Petty: "You remember a million things. Like anybody would remember their child, you remember them being 18 months and 6 years old and 18 years old, and then you remember the day they were killed.
"And I think when you look at it, there's so many memories you can't pick anything. He just grew up as part of this sport, as we all did, and you take it for granted that you're always going to be here."