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It started as just a bunch of NASCAR drivers who wanted to ride their motorcycles across the country.

Now, nearly a generation later, it’s developed into a spring tradition that’s generated $18 million for charity.

This year, folks in York County will get an up-close-and-personal look at the 24th anniversary Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.

More than 200 participants, including some of NASCAR’s biggest names, will stop in York on Wednesday, May 9.

If you enjoy NASCAR, motorcycles or just helping out kids in need, this is an event you might want to check out.

After spending a day in Lancaster County, the riders are expected to pull into 1st Capital Harley-Davidson, 100 Arsenal Road, around 10:45 a.m. May 9 and exit York around 2:15 p.m.

In between, the riders will be available to chat with fans and sign autographs.

“We really just wanted to ride motorcycles from California to North Carolina. It’s so simple,” former NASCAR driver Kyle Petty said recently, when describing how the ride started.

“We just wanted to do it one time to say we did it. So we started talking to sponsors — we’re NASCAR drivers, so whenever we do anything, there’s always sponsors — and they told us ‘we pay you guys lots of money to drive cars, we can’t have you riding motorcycles cross-country.’ So, we talked about it and went back to the sponsors and said ‘let’s do it for charity,’ and they said ‘that’s the greatest idea ever.’”

That’s how the charity ride was born. The chosen charity since 2004 has been Victory Junction, a camp in Randleman, North Carolina, dedicated to providing life-changing experiences for kids who are battling chronic or life-threatening medical conditions. Victory Junction was started by the Petty family in honor of Kyle Petty's late son, Adam.

This year’s seven-day ride, presented by used vehicle services provider Manheim®, has 225 participants and will take a 1,200-mile route from Portland, Maine, to Greensboro, North Carolina. It will travel through nine states in all. Over the years, nearly 8,200 riders have driven 11.9 million cumulative motorcycle miles.

NASCAR legends to attend: Among the riders expected in York, in addition to Kyle Petty, are NASCAR legends such as “King” Richard Petty (Kyle’s father), Harry Gant, Donnie Allison and Herschel McGriff. Heisman Trophy winners Herschel Walker and George Rogers are also set to appear, among many other celebrities.

For Kyle Petty, who is now a NASCAR television analyst for NBC Sports, the ride is a labor of love.

“I’ve always loved motorcycles,” he said. “In fact, I’m more of a motorcycle guy than a car guy. When you’re 10 and your dad is Richard Petty, you’ve been to the Mount Everest of cars. There’s nowhere to go but down. So I went toward motorcycles. It’s a release to jump on a motorcycle.”

Event at 1st Capital: While they’re in York, the riders plan to shuttle in groups to tour the Harley-Davidson plant. The 1st Capital Harley-Davidson site, however, will serve as the ride’s York base.

Kyle Petty, 57, is hoping York County folks will show up in force to greet the riders at 1st Capital during their 3½-hour stop in York.

“It will be relaxed and laid back,” Kyle Petty said of the York stop. “No one’s going to push you through a line to get an autograph. If you see Richard Petty, just go up to him with a piece of paper, and he’ll sign it. Just come and talk and enjoy some fellowship and hang out with us.”

No charge for public: There will be no charge for the public to attend the York event at 1st Capital. There will be merchandise for sale to help Victory Junction. Donations will also be accepted for the ride’s “Small Change. Big Impact” program.

Kyle Petty emphasized, however, that buying merchandise or making a donation will not be a prerequisite to get an autograph or meet the celebrities.

“You just get to meet a lot of good people,” Kyle Petty said. “It’s the people that make everything cool … We never sit down and say we have to raise so much money. If you give us a $1, that’s great. If you give us $10, that’s great. If you give us $1 million, that's great, because it’s all going to a good cause. That formula has been a success for us. We’ve had great partners.”

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com. For more information, visit kylepettycharityride.com.

COMPLETE SCHEDULE

Following is the complete schedule for the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America:

Day 1, Saturday, May 5: Portland, Maine, to Albany, New York.

Day 2, Sunday, May 6: Albany  to Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania.

Day 3, Monday, May 7: Mount Pocono to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Day 4, Tuesday, May 8: “Off Day” in Lancaster.

Day 5, Wednesday, May 9: Lancaster, stopping in York County, to Winchester, Virginia.

Day 6, Thursday, May 10: Winchester  to Hot Springs, Virginia.

Day 7, Friday, May 11: Hot Springs to Greensboro, North Carolina.

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