CHARITY RIDE: A local pit stop: Kyle Petty Charity Ride hits Raymond

Photo by Sam Thiel Bikers are greeted by fans as they drive into Raymond Thursday during the Kyle Petty Charity Ride. Top center: A biker arrives into Raymond Thursday during the Kyle Petty Charity Ride

RAYMOND – Seeing the occasional motorcycle rider drive through the small town of Raymond is a common, everyday occurrence. But when 200 bikers – led by NASCAR legends Richard “The King” Petty and Kyle Petty – come through, it becomes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

On Day 6 of their week-long expedition across the western half of the U.S. and the Midwest, the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America tour made a stop at Apol’s Harley Davidson in Raymond on Thursday afternoon, where the riders were greeted by locals eager to catch a glimpse. Fans were also treated to an autograph session.

Kyle Petty – who became a household name on the racetrack over the last few decades – has since swapped his NASCAR jumpsuit for a leather jacket and helps lead a journey that saw riders this year travel 2,400 miles to help raise funds and awareness for Victory Junction.

Kyle Petty said Raymond was a great stopping point on their ride and was happy with the support and turnout they received.

“That’s why we’re here. My wife, Morgan and I and her mom came through on a site inspection. We left Mitchell, S.D. and were going to Minneapolis and randomly picked this route on the map. It was the perfect place and we said, ‘We should call the Harley Davidson’s.’ And these guys have done a great job. The best part of the ride is meeting local people; that is the most fun. I think this is the biggest turnout we’ve had at a dealership.”

The charity ride has raised almost $17.5 million in its 23-year existence, and proceeds go toward Victory Junction – a year-round camp for kids battling chronic or other life-threatening illnesses. The camp was established to honor Petty’s son Adam, who was killed in a racing accident, and has given more than 7,000 children the opportunity to attend the camp for free as a result of the ride.

Almost 8,000 riders have made the trek in the foundation’s history. One of those riders is a familiar face to Minnesota football fans – former Vikings running back Herschel Walker.

Walker, an avid rider and a motorcycle enthusiast, was thrilled to join the ride over 10 years ago and

“About 12 years ago, I was at this All-Star race and they (the Petty’s) mentioned to do a ride across the country. I hadn’t heard of Victory Junction at the time and I thought they were nuts to ride motorcycles across the country” Walker said. “I love motorcycles because I collect them; that’s what people don’t know about me is that I collect vintage cars and motorcycles. I said I would love to do it, and that I wouldn’t go all the way across the country, but I would go halfway. I’ve fallen in love with it, and what the Petty family has done for kids with chronic illness is special.”

Walker added he’s been fortunate to be able to help give back to society and do special things for special people, and has grown with the people he rides with.

“I tell people all the time from a great man who said that if you take something out of society, make sure to put something back in. One of the things I’ve been very fortunate in life is I’ve been blessed. I think going back to help someone else is something special,” Walker said. “I just thank the Petty family for giving me this opportunity and all you’ve got to do is ride a motorcycle. When I first started riding with this group, most everyone that I was with was still riding. They’re like a family.”

Walker spent two seasons with the Vikings and said he was excited to return to the state of Minnesota once again.

“It’s very nice to come back. One of the best places I’ve ever lived in my life is Minnesota. I’ve said it many times; the people and the area are just absolutely incredible. Today it’s cold but what I’ve told people is you get used to it. It’s not like its cold and it’s bad; this is one of the best places I’ve lived in during my life. I was excited when I saw they had Minnesota on the schedule. I mentioned to someone that I needed to go to Byerlys and get some wild rice soup. I don’t even know where we’re staying but I have to see if I can find a Byerlys and get wild rice soup.”

Walker said he’s been interested in motorcycles since he was a kid, and has encouraged more people to be properly taught how to ride like he has, including some players in the NFL.

“I love speed. I like to collect motorcycles and I like to build everything fast. I’m like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights – I like to go fast,” Walker said. “I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 12 but I really learned to ride when I came with this group. Some of the older riders taught me the proper way to ride. That’s why I encourage a lot of NFL players to do the same. You hear about so many wrecks from NFL players and I encourage a lot of the guys to come and do the ride. It’s not just about teaching you how to ride a motorcycle but also to give back. If you get the chance to go to Victory Junction, you get to see something special.”