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Herschel taking part in Petty motorcycle ride.


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Herschel taking part in Petty motorcycle ride

By RICK MINTER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 07/18/08

There was a time when a band of motorcycle riders rolling into town would send the citizenry running for cover.

But when the 14th annual Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride made its way into downtown Atlanta on Friday, the 200 or so riders were greeted like celebrities.

Many of them were. The charity ride is a way for the famous and not-so-famous to combine their love of two-wheel travel with their desire to help the less fortunate. Money raised by the ride more than $10.5 million has been collected over the history of the event goes to children's hospitals across the country and to the Victory Junction Gang Camp for ill children that was founded by the Pettys.

Among the notables joining Petty and his family as they rolled into the World of Coca-Cola on Friday were University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, NASCAR driver Burney Lamar, Speed channel personality Rutledge Wood and Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy. Others who made a portion of the trip included Matt Kenseth, Richard Petty and Harry Gant from the NASCAR world and Davis Love III, who left the ride early to participate in the British Open.

"It's the best of two worlds," said Gossage, who has been on 13 of the 14 rides. "You get to ride a motorcycle and act like a clown and get to raise money for kids."

Funds come from donations by riders and sponsors.

Some riders, such as veteran motorsports journalist Al Pearce of Newport News, Va., point out that a week-long motorcycle journey can be grueling. But long two-wheel trips are nothing new for the man at the head of the pack.

This year, Petty's already put 20,000 miles on his new Harley-Davidson.

"I've ridden it to every race so far this year," he said. He and Kenseth rode together from Texas to Phoenix earlier this year, but for the most part Petty has ridden alone.

Perhaps one day, the world will find out more about those trips.

"I've been sort of halfway writing a book about the places I've been and the people I've talked to," he said. "It's been a lot of fun meeting people on the road."

At most stops, Petty greets fans and answered racing questions while Walker fields queries about football.

Walker said he believes his alma mater will be a contender for the national title in football this fall. "I believe they have a very good chance of winning it," he said. "They way they finished the year last year showed everyone that they're doing a good job."

Petty weighed in on the latest blockbuster news in NASCAR word last week that Tony Stewart was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to be both driver and co-owner of his team next year.

Petty, who has filled that dual role for years, said Stewart will do just fine, largely because he has owned several short-track race teams for years.

"Tony's owned a little bit of everything in his life, so this is not going to catch him off guard," Petty said, adding that Stewart has an advantage over other drivers such as Darrell Waltrip, who started race teams late in their careers.

"Tony's starting right in the middle of his career, where he's still a hot property and capable of winning races and championships," he said. "He can build the team at the top of the mountain, not the back side like some of these people tried to do."

The charity ride, which began Monday in Traverse City, Mich., has attracted fans at every stop, Petty said. Even basic fuel stops, such as one in Lawrenceville on Friday morning, turn into big events.

"There have been 150-200 people at every gas station," Petty said.

The ride left Atlanta and headed for an overnight stop in Peachtree City. The final leg of the trip will carry the group to Savannah today.

Petty said the charity ride continues to grow each year, in large part because it's never quite the same. Every year the event attracts different participants and takes a different route across the country. Even so, Petty is surprised at its longevity.

"It still blows me away that it's lasted this long," he said.

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