Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Victory Junction Gang Camp

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Victory Junction Gang Camp

Article excerpt

"The thing that always gets to me is when I see Adam's car," says Richard Petty, referring to a Victory Junction Gang Camp's centerpiece, Adam's Race Shop, which is a 6,000 square foot building constructed in the shape of Adam Petty's No. 45 racecar. "I can just imagine him sitting in that thing with an ear-to-ear grin. He really loved kids. Basically, we're celebrating Adam's life."

The Victory Junction Gang Camp is a camp for children with chronic medical conditions, and it serves twenty-four different disease groups. The mission of the camp is to give children life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun, and empowering in a safe and medically sound environment. While doing so, the campers get to meet other kids just like themselves, sometimes for the first time in their lives. During camp for children with cancer, no one worries about not having any hair; during camp for children with heart disease, no one worries about the scar on their chest, during camp for burn survivors, no one worries that someone is going to stare at their scars. And the list goes on. Victory Junction has seen more than 4,500 campers since its opening in 2004 and is always free of charge.

Most people do not realize that Adam Petty is the single most influential aspect of the Victory Junction Gang Camp. To understand that statement, a sequence of events must be presented. About twelve years ago, Kyle Petty started doing a motorcycle ride across America with some buddies, just to have a little fun outside of his life as a NASCAR driver. Before long, Kyle decided to make the ride an official event to raise money for various charities; the ride was appropriately called the "Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America." Still not old enough to drive a car, Kyle's son, Adam, started participating in the Charity Ride at the young age of 15. Allowing Adam to take part in the ride might have been the single greatest thing Kyle and his wife, Pattie, could have let their son do. By the age of 17, Adam had learned what it was like to give, not hundreds of dollars, but thousands. He watched his father take part in the charity ride, giving to organizations that were truly deserving and forever grateful. Although a 17-year-old with a legendary last name and a promising NASCAR future might have chosen to be concerned with material possessions and showmanship, Adam Petty was not typical. Somewhere along the line, Adam developed a form of compassion that was far beyond his years. Says Adam's mom, Pattie Petty, of her son, "On the Charity Ride, we would stop at hospitals and drop-off large amounts of money, and Adam would say, 'Mom where is that money going? Jon in room 220 just wants a Gameboy.'" Pattie explains, "He wanted to help the kids directly."

What made Adam such a great kid? Adam was brought up in the typical Southern Baptist lifestyle, and he had great respect for his parents, his elders, and for people in general. "Growing up in the spotlight makes you grow up really quick," says Kyle Petty. "It also makes you learn really quickly what is right and what is wrong." One of Adam's sponsors early on in his career helped inspire his philanthropic heart. That sponsor was Sprint, the cellular phone company. Sprint created something called the Star Bright Foundation. "Star Bright was a foundation that let children at different hospitals talk to each other over the computer," said Kyle Petty. "Letting the kids communicate was really important because it enabled them to talk to other kids just like themselves." Adam played an important role in promoting the program and that made a difference in children's lives all across the United States.

In 1998, members of the Petty family took a motorcycle trip to the Boggy Creek Gang Camp in Florida. Boggy Creek is part of the Hole in the Wall Association that was started by actor Paul Newman. Boggy Creek is a medical camping facility that allows children with chronic illnesses to take part in activities that they normally would not have the opportunity to do. …

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