Hanging with Kyle Petty at Victory Junction
Kyle Petty takes a seat next to his wife Morgan at a cafeteria table while campers sound off rhythmic chants celebrating another full day at Victory Junction.
Victory Junction is a NASCAR themed Serious Fun Camp, which are designed for children with disabilities and allow campers to stay at no cost.
Petty said Victory Junction and other Serious Fun camps provide a safe environment for kids that would be unable to attend any other summer camps.
“These are kids that would not be accepted to a Boy Scout camp or a Girl Scout camp or a YMCA camp because of their medical needs,” Petty said. “On an hourly basis on a daily basis they would need to have a doctor or nurse with them, which we already have on staff. So that’s the important thing is you see a group of kids that never have an opportunity or may never have an opportunity to go and experience a summer camp” The camp is entirely supported by donations from sponsors across the spectrum, from Krispy Kreme to Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride Across America.
Victory Junction was built in memory of Adam Petty, who suggested building a camp before his fatal crash in 2000.
After that Kyle said his father donated the land and other figures in the racing world like Dale Jarett and Bobby Labonte came together to donate money to build the camp.
Every Tuesday at camp is NASCARnival night, where pit crews show off their skills and let the campers try their hand at changing a tire.
Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. hung out with the kids while the Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing pit crews helped the kids pop some tires.
Paul Sagerman, Member of the Victory Junction Board of Directors, said it’s important to let the kids have a chance to run around and indulge their curiosity without their parents while still providing a medically safe environment.
Petty joins in the fun, getting down with the campers during the after dinner dance party.
Beyond the fun they have Petty said that close relationships often develop between campers, even if they live on opposite sides of the country.
“Kids will come to camp and the age group is 8 year olds in this cabin, 10 year olds in this cabin and they’ll make friends and you know one kid may live in Ohio and the other may live in Georgia somewhere but they become pen pals, they talk to each other, they email each other, they text each other,” Petty said.
Victory Junction hosts 3-4,000 kids from all 50 states and even other countries each summer. Petty said kids are drawn to Victory Junction by a shared love of NASCAR.
“If you’re a NASCAR fan from Minnesota and you have a child with asthma or arthritis and you’re watching a NASCAR race and all of a sudden there’s a Victory Junction ad and you see Kevin Harvick playing with the kids and you’re a Kevin Harvick fan you’re like ‘I wanna go to that camp,'” Petty said.
From the second they enter through an authentic NASCAR tunnel campers can play in buildings sponsored by famous racers like Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Petty said that every activity at camp is designed so that any camper can use it, regardless of medical condition.
Each week sees the camp filled by children with a different condition, ranging from gastrointestinal problems to neurological and genetic disorders.
Petty said grouping campers by condition gives them a chance to identify with other kids they may not meet in their day to day life at home.
“Most children who have a chronic illness or a life threatening illness that on a daily basis they go to school and they may be the only child at school that has that illness,” Petty said. “They may be the only kid in middle school that has craniofacial, who has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, who has hemophilia, whatever it may be they may be the only child in that school of 600 or 700 kids.”
Petty said that’s why kids form such strong friendships at camp, because they can find someone who knows exactly what they’re going through.
“I know if I’m sitting here talking to you at a cafeteria table at camp that you understand everything I’m saying because we have the same illness,” Petty said. “We’re eight years old and we have the same problems on a daily basis. We’re eight years old and we don’ t know what our life’s gonna be like so we have the same fears but we also have the same hopes and the same dreams.” !