June 28, 2004 12:00 PM

Adam Petty, grandson of the legendary Richard Petty, was the crown prince of stock-car racing’s royal family. And he had a plan beyond the track: to open a camp where children with serious diseases could just be kids. “He’d walk into a room and talk to a little boy who had cancer or a little girl who’d been in an accident,” his father, Kyle, recalls of his visits to children’s hospitals, “and he made a connection.”

That connection was tragically broken in May 2000, after Adam Petty was killed at age 19 when his car crashed into a wall at a New Hampshire speedway. But his dream didn’t die. To honor Adam’s memory, his parents, Pattie and Kyle, have built Victory Junction Gang Camp, a 75-acre NASCAR-themed fantasy world in rural Randleman, N.C.—just the way Adam wanted it. “The first time we met with architects, before Adam’s crash, they were talking about making his camp like a southern town, a Mayberry kind of thing,” recalls Pattie. “Adam said, ‘These kids wouldn’t know Andy Griffith if he walked in the door. You need to make it look like the Jet-sons went to the racetrack.’ ”

That it does—complete with a race car hanging from the dining-hall ceiling and a theater adorned with shiny spark plugs. When the facility opens on June 20, the kids will swim, fish, play sports and build model dragsters, supervised by a staff of 70 that includes a medical team. “If one thing helps me deal with Adam being gone,” says Kyle, 44, who still races, “it’s knowing that kids are gonna come through this camp, sit up and say, ‘I’m special.’ ”

Count 7-year-old Hunt Allen among them. Last year he underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening brain tumor. But during a special preview of Victory Junction on June 8, he raced around in an ATV chauffeured by none other than Richard Petty. “It’s so much fun—can I do it again?” he yelled as the ride came to an end.

Richard, 66, visits the camp almost daily to check up on details. “The deal is, ‘Adam, we can’t do anything for you now, but we’re doing something you would have wanted,’ ” he says. Adam’s death was a dark moment for the dynasty founded by great-grandfather Lee, one of the original stars of the NASCAR circuit. “Racing was our destiny,” Richard says. “Adam was a part of that.”

He was also heir to a tradition of helping kids. A decade ago, Kyle started a charity motorcycle ride that takes riders—some from NASCAR—to visit children’s hospitals. Adam went along, and his plans for a camp began to take shape. After he died, Richard donated land while Kyle and Pattie raised $23 million for the complex. “The Pettys have been so selfless,” says Hunt Allen’s mother, Neesha, 35. “If it helps them with their sadness, that’s all the better.”

Still, their grief remains raw. Kyle still wakes in the middle of the night thinking of his son. “I hope I always do,” he says. “Then you know you’re still close.” He believes Victory Junction will keep Adam close for years to come. “It took us out of ourselves. There’s healing in that.”

Richard Jerome. Lori Rozsa in Randleman

You May Like

EDIT POST