DARLINGTON, S.C. – The day wound up getting to Kyle Petty more than he thought it would, he said.
“I’m more emotional sitting here now than I thought I would be,” Petty said. “… To be able to put that car on a racetrack again after all these years is going to be a special moment for me.
“It’s going to be emotional. I’m not going to lie; it’s going to be extremely emotional.”
It’s not hard to understand why, considering whom the car is meant to remember.
Petty, along with his NASCAR Hall of Fame father and Richard Petty Motorsports driver Bubba Wallace, gathered for a special presentation Tuesday at Darlington Raceway as the No. 43 Chevrolet was unveiled with the throwback paint scheme honoring Adam Petty, Kyle’s late son.
On May 12, 2000, Adam died at the age of 19 from injuries sustained in a crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway while practicing for the Busch 200 race.
“This paint scheme for me is incredibly special,” Kyle Petty said of the purple, yellow, green and orange mix. “I say that because this is … when Adam ran the ASA (American Speed Association) Series, this is the paint scheme that he won at I-70 Speedway in Kansas. … This is the paint scheme that he won the ARCA race with in Charlotte after he backed it into the wall and we had to beat it all out and put it all back together.”
The significance extends off the track, too.
Five months after Adam’s death, the Petty Family partnered with Paul Newman and the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp to begin work on what is now Victory Junction in Randleman, North Carolina.
Victory Junction provides year-round camps for children with serious or chronic medical conditions and was the dream of Adam Petty.
“It was Adam’s idea,” Richard Petty said. “Eighteen, 19-year-old kid went to (Camp) Boggy Creek in Florida and came back and talked to his dad and said, ‘You know, why can’t we do something like that in North Carolina?”’
That dream became a reality in 2004 – with a familiar paint scheme adorning one of the buildings.
“For us, this is the paint scheme when, after Adam’s accident when we built Victory Junction, that we chose to put on the car that is the iconic building at Victory Junction – the building that looks like Adam’s racecar,” Kyle Petty said. “So for us, it’s incredibly personal.”
This year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 also coincides with the 15th anniversary of Victory Junction, and the logo will be displayed on the front of the car as well as on the driver suit worn by Wallace during the race.
“It’s truly an honor and a top throwback that I’ve been a part of,” Wallace said. “Just knowing the history behind the Petty family and Adam’s vision and seeing it come to life with Victory Junction, and Victory Junction coming on board this year … it’s been a lot of fun working with this group and organization ever since I started.
“I remember before I was even a part of the team going to Victory Junction and getting to see the kids’ faces and their smiles and just the amount of fun that they’re having.”
Wallace was able to carry on that spirit later in the afternoon by visiting the Florence Boys & Girls Club.
In front of a crowd of more than 100 people, Wallace talked about his life as a driver, answered questions, toured the facilities and played games. He also took time to meet with members of the family of Florence police Sgt. Terrence Carraway, one of the officers who was killed in an ambush last October in Florence.
A former Boys & Girls Club member himself, the 25-year-old driver talked mostly about a need for respect, especially given recent events in the country.
“It’s about treating people the way you want to be treated,” Wallace said. “Seeing how the world is today and the world we live in is definitely changing, and not so much for the good. It’s all about how we treat each other. You wouldn’t want anybody picking on you, so you shouldn’t be picking on anybody else.
“Treat everyone with respect and make the world a happier and better place.”