ST. HENRY – Kyle Petty, a third-generation NASCAR driver who is part of one of the sport’s most iconic families, thinks Eldora Speedway should remain a fixture of the NASCAR truck series for years to come.
Eldora and NASCAR this week announced a five-year extension to keep the Camping World Truck Series coming back to Rossburg through the 2020 season, and Petty said it was a smart decision.
“I think all the race fans straight across the board love to watch the trucks on dirt,” said Petty, who will headline the 21st annual Evening for Race Fans banquet on Nov. 27 in St. Henry. “For them to extend it, that was pretty much a no-brainer.”
Petty will be the featured guest at the Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce’s Evening for Race Fans on Nov. 27 at Romer’s Catering in St. Henry. Guests along with Petty will be Rusty Schlenk and Dallas Hewitt, a pair of drivers who compete at Eldora.
“It’s going to be a fun,” Petty said. “That’s the main thing. That what’s it all about, having fun and raising some money for charity.”
The Evening for Race Fans events will begin at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 27 with an hour-long autograph session. There then will be a buffet dinner, which will be followed by interviews conducted by former radio voice of the Indy Race League and Indy 500 Mike King and a race memorabilia auction.
The Evening for Race Fans – which in the past has included guests such as Jeff Burton, Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte, Brad Keselowski , Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip and Rusty Wallace among many others – is a fundraiser for State of the Heart Hospice, Community Health Professionals and the Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce. During the past 20 years more than $210,000 has been raised for charity.
“Everything they’ve done out there has been spectacular,” Petty said. “It’s pretty much a who’s who of Cup racing.”
Petty himself is an icon in the racing industry and comes from one of racing’s most famous families.
His grandfather Lee Petty was a NASCAR driver who is 10th in the sport’s history with 54 victories. His father, Richard Petty, won a record 200 career races. Kyle Petty is 62nd in the all-time wins list with eight victories in NASCAR’s highest series. His son, Adam, also was a NASCAR driver prior to a fatal accident in 2000 in New Hampshire.
Today Kyle Petty is a TV analyst on NBCSN’s daily show “NASCAR America” and a pre- and post-race analyst for NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity coverage on NBC and NBCSN. He also co-hosts the weekly radio show “Fast Talk” on the Performance Racing Network.
Petty also is very involved in charity work. He helped found Victory Junction, a camp where more than 22,000 children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses are provided life-changing camp experiences. He also hosts the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America to raise money for Victory Junction and has raised more than $16 million in the past 21 years.
“I’m busier now than I was before (while racing),” Petty said of all his ventures.
Petty got involved with the Evening for Race Fans this past summer when representatives of Tony Stewart, a NASCAR driver who owns Eldora Speedway, contacted him.
“It seemed like a long way away in June when I told them I would come,” Petty said. “Now it’s here.”
Petty has helped raise money for Stewart’s foundation in the past and has been to Eldora before, but he’s never raced on the world famous dirt track. He grew up racing on asphalt and wasn’t very successful the few times he tried to race on dirt.
“Whenever I went they kicked my butt six ways to Sunday,” Petty said of the dirt racers.
Even though he’s not a dirt racer himself, Petty enjoys watching the Mud Summer Classic every year at Eldora.
“That’s pizza party night,” he said.
The annual truck race at Eldora is so popular because fans love watching drivers go back to their roots and race on dirt, Petty said. And the drivers love it because it’s so different than any other course, he said.
“I think the uniqueness makes it what it is, makes it special,” Petty said.
Given the uniqueness of the event, Petty doesn’t think NASCAR should add more dirt races to its schedule. Petty also doesn’t think Eldora is an ideal fit for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series because it’s much smaller than other venues on the circuit.
“I think from a venue perspective the Cup Series plays to a lot bigger venues and a lot bigger markets,” he said. “But TV makes everything a big market.”
Whatever NASCAR decides to do in regards to Eldora and dirt racing, Petty is just glad that he doesn’t have to make those decisions.
“Thank goodness I’m not in a position to run things,” he said.
Eldora is sure to be a topic during the Evening for Race Fans, but Petty said the conversation will be spontaneous so he’s not sure what all will be disused.
Fans who would like to attend the event and hear Petty speak must purchase a ticket in advance by calling the Celina-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce at 419-586-2219. Tickets cost $50 each. Visa and Master Card are accepted.
For more information on the Evening for Race Fans, visit the event’s Facebook page by searching “Chamber Race Night.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.