By Ron Moorhead/Special for The Willits News

For nearly two decades NASCAR driver and television personality Kyle Petty has organized a motorcycle ride across America to raise funds for various charities. For his 2012 adventure, Petty has chosen to start in Napa and ride north through the towering redwoods of the North Coast before heading east to his final destination: Texas Motor Speedway. Petty and a group of hardy riders will travel thousands of miles in seven days to raise donations to aid children suffering from serious illness.

Beginning in Napa on the morning of Saturday, April 28, the 2012 ride will wind north through the vineyards stopping in Willits at Safeway for fuel and to stretch a bit under the Willits Arch. While in Willits, Mayor, Bruce Burton, city council members and Willits Chamber of Commerce directors will welcome Petty and his fellow riders. Naturally more than 125 motorcycle riders would not go unnoticed, but to be sure they travel safely the Willits Police Department will escort the entourage as the venture through town.

According to Kyle, “You never know who you’re going to meet on the ride.” Notable participants have included super models, pro golfers, and NASCAR greats. Some of the celebrities planning on riding this year include former NFL great and Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker, two time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage. NASCAR legend Harry Gant and NBA star and NASCAR team owner Brad Daugherty.

Willits will be relatively short, Kyle encourages all the Willits fans to come down to Safeway to meet the riders. It will be a great time to get photographs and perhaps meet and get autographs from some of your favorite celebrities.

During a recent interview, Kyle said it all started 17 years ago as more of a seat-of-the-pants ride with eight or 10 riders looking for an excuse to ride across America. In those early years stops were made at a few children’s hospitals donating funds as they rode.

“It has evolved into having a much larger impact in children’s lives,” Petty said.

Today, moving into its 18th year, the ride has donated more than $14.5 million. Thanks in part to the kindness of the riders, of which more than 125 will be participating in the 2012 ride, and the fans that come out at every stop.

Victory Junction is the major charity to benefit from the ride. Founded by the Petty family (you may recognize Kyle’s father, NASCAR great, Richard Petty) in honor of Kyle’s son, Adam, who was tragically killed in a racing accident. Victory Junction offers life-changing experiences by providing a year-round camping environment for children ages 6 to 16 who suffer with chronic medical conditions and serious illnesses.

“Victory Junction’s mission,” Petty explained, “is to provide life-changing experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering in a safe and medically sound environment.” The camp offers programs that all of these children could not experience without the kind and generous support of individuals, groups and corporations. All of these benefits are available at no charge to the children or their families.

“We have served about 16,000 kids at no charge to their families,” Petty said. “The illness, the financial burden, just the whole situation for the families is tough enough; we did not want them to pay a dime for this experience.”

Following their short time in Willits, the riders will continue north traveling through the redwoods, following the Avenue of the Giants and arriving at the Harley Davidson dealership in Eureka. Here they will have lunch and rest a bit before the troupe heads east on Highway 299, following the Trinity River to the day’s final stop in Redding.

Once departing California, the riders will overnight at towns in a new state nearly every night as they wind their way to Texas Motor Speedway.

Fans can follow Petty and the riders live via or on Twitter: @kylepetty or @kpcharityride. For more information on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America or Victory Junction fans can visit

Fans can make contributions along the route through the “Small Change. Big Impact.” Program, which will accept donations at each of the Ride’s daily pit stops. The public can also make a $10 donation simply by texting RIDE to 27722 and reply to the confirmation text with the word “yes”. A $10 donation will be added to their wireless bills.