Hey guys!  I am setting out again on the annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride to support Victory Junction Camp, a camp for children with chronic and debilitating illnesses.  This will be my fourth trip and I have loved every second of all of them.  It is a great experience, all for a great cause.  I plan to have tons of pics and a full blog entry to share with everyone when I get back.  In the mean time, check out this article by the talented Megan Englehart.

Petty Hits Road For Annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Without Trusty Sidekick

SPEED™ co-host, unlikely best friend picks up the ride after wrapping up Richmond NASCAR duties

Petty: “The expression on Rutledge’s face was priceless. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Who is the psycho standing next to me?’ From then on, it was like we were the same in a lot of ways.”

As Kyle Petty straps on a helmet and hits the road Saturday in Napa, Calif., to open the 18th annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, he’ll do so without his trusty sidekick and NASCAR on SPEED co-host, Rutledge Wood.

Wood, Petty’s unlikely best friend, will be at Richmond International Raceway for his regular duties co-hosting Trackside and reporting for NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED, both of which feature Petty as co-host. Wood, however, will grab his motorcycle and pick up the more than 175 Charity Ride riders about 36 hours late in Reno, Nev., and remain with the gang until just a few hours before they conclude their ride May 4 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Those early hours of the cross-country motorcycle trek, which raises funds for Victory Junction Gang Camp, are some of the very few that Petty and Wood spend apart each year. The duo is inseparable every weekend on the NASCAR circuit.

The old cliché “fate brought us together” doesn’t exactly apply to them. For these unlikeliest of best friends, it was a messy, rocket-propelled bratwurst that broke the ice during their introduction.

The two, co-hosts of SPEED’s Trackside every Friday from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series venues, shared a mutual friend in Petty’s former manager, who suggested they meet. Introductions were made on the Trackside stage at Watkins Glen International in 2006, when Petty, still driving at the time, was a guest. Wood, shooting a segment from a sponsored grilling area on the side stage, asked Petty to join him for a moment on-air.

“I told Kyle, ‘They’ll put the camera on us, and you just smile and put some mustard on this brat,’” Wood recalled. “I’m smiling and flipping brats and all of a sudden, Kyle loaded his brat up with a pound of mustard and chucked it into the crowd like a grenade. I thought, ‘Oh crap. I’m in big trouble. My career is over.’ But fans were going crazy and jumping for the brat, so I handed Kyle another one. He loaded it up with mustard and chucked it into the crowd again. I said to myself, ‘This guy and I are going to be friends,’ and we started hanging out after that.”

“I was laughing because Rutledge didn’t have a clue what I was about to do,” Petty recalled. “When I threw the brat, the expression on Rutledge’s face was priceless. It was like, ‘Oh my gosh! Who is the psycho standing next to me?’ From then on, it was like we were the same in a lot of ways.”

For many on the outside looking in, Petty and Wood make an extremely unlikely pair with absolutely nothing in common. Their 19-year age difference aside, one hails from stock-car racing royalty while the other grew up anywhere but in the NASCAR garage. But the two say they couldn’t be more compatible.

“The fact Kyle Petty is my best friend is pretty hilarious when you consider I’m just some kid who grew up in Birmingham who didn’t know much about racing,” said Wood, who also co-hosts the U.S. version of Top Gear on History Channel. “But we’re very similar. I’m sometimes a little more mature, although it may not appear that way, and somehow we meet in the middle.”

“I look at us as a likely pairing in so many ways — from music to current events to being a smart-aleck who wants to have fun,” Petty said. “What is strange is Rutledge is Adam’s age. He’s 32. In essence, he could be my son. How crazy is that? That’s the funny part that no one ever thinks about. It’s like who’s the oldest and more mature in this group?”

The two are together from the minute they fly into the race market each Thursday until Wood leaves for the airport midway through the Cup Series race on Sunday. Petty stays behind to co-host NASCAR Victory Lane, SPEED’s post-race show, after the conclusion of every NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event. They carpool to and from the track each day, eat all meals together and even tag along with each other to appearances and appointments. One of their favorite activities is hitting local malls in a quest to find unique tennis shoes and vintage guitars for Wood, and old motorcycles and vintage guitars for Kyle.

The two peas in a pod have somewhat dramatic, trademark looks that distinguish them. For Petty, it’s the long ponytail he has sported for years, and for Wood, the ever-present plaid shirt, thick beard and dark-rimmed glasses reminiscent of the beloved “Where’s Waldo?” character.

“Kyle’s ponytail is hilarious to me,” Wood laughed. “I spend so much time with him that I don’t even notice it anymore. It’s completely perfect for him, although if another guy walked in with a ponytail, I might say, ‘Nice ponytail, dude.’ I can always find Kyle in crowds because of it. As much as we make fun of each other, I don’t even think about making fun of the ponytail unless I really need some material, and then I’m like, ‘Oh, by the way, nice hair.’

“His hair looks ‘Yanni-ish’ when it’s down,” Wood continued. “If Kyle took his ponytail down, got on a horse and galloped off, he’d end up on the cover of a romance novel … but he’d have to gain about 50 pounds of muscle first. He’d have to ‘(Jeff) Hammond-up,’ bulk up, a bit.”

Then there’s Wood’s signature look.

“Rutledge is not defined so much by his hair as he is his glasses and beard,” Petty pointed out. “Very few people in motor sports are defined by their glasses, and the first who come to mind are Richard Petty and Rutledge Wood. He always has a plaid shirt on with some sort of logoed tee shirt underneath, whether a cartoon character, a funny saying or a sponsor he represents on it.
“Rutledge is very unique and it’s amazing how many people recognize him,” Petty added. “We can be on the golf cart headed to the SPEED Stage and people will recognize him 100 yards before they recognize anyone else on the golf cart.”

Beyond his wardrobe, Wood is renowned for his humor and propensity for cracking a joke at the drop of a hat. And if no one else gets his joke, he is guaranteed to get a laugh out of Petty.

“We’re like peanut butter and jelly,” Wood related. “Not everyone understands or appreciates our sense of humor, so we tell people who don’t know us, ‘We might not be making this joke for you. We’re making each other laugh and if you laugh, too, that’s great. But we’re just trying to amuse each other.’”

While they might appear to constantly try to out-embarrass each other, Petty says that is a losing, futile battle.

“You can’t embarrass or shock either of us,” Petty stated. “That’s why we’re willing to practically break our necks on a slip-and-slide on live TV or throw water in each other’s faces on Trackside. If you’re not afraid and are in it just to have fun and make other people laugh, you can’t be embarrassed because you’re already making fun of yourself. We’re always willing to laugh at ourselves. If you laugh at us, that’s okay because we’ve already stepped across that line and let everyone else in on the joke.”

What does astonish Petty about his buddy, though, might surprise others even more. Under that thick head of hair, beard and glasses sits a mind like a steel trap and a very active one at that.

“What continues to shock and amaze me is Rutledge’s encyclopedic knowledge of all forms of music,” Petty said. “He can bust off a rap song and then go straight into a Johnny Cash tune. He also can quote from every movie ever made, whether current or before his time. And he knows more about cars than anyone I’ve ever run across. I can ask him something about a 1982 Honda Civic or a Buick Roadmaster and he always has the answer.

“He comes across to most people as a smart-aleck cut-up just out to have a good time, but Rutledge is an incredibly intelligent person,” Petty continued. “People view him as a cartoon character or a caricature of somebody – even of himself – but watch him on Trackside. When he’s not being funny, he asks very intelligent questions and is well thought-out.”

There is a serious side to the two men, though, when it comes to their deep friendship, their families and Petty’s charity initiatives.

“It feels like Rutledge has been my best friend my whole life, although we met a bit later in life,” Petty said. “He is so caring. When he calls his wife and girls at night, it’s obvious they are first and foremost in his life. He also reaches out to encourage drivers or crew members who have had a bad day at the track. More than anything, I admire the fact Rutledge has a huge heart that matches his larger-than-life personality.”

Along the same lines, Petty makes outreach a priority with families and friends who have lost a child. He and wife Pattie lost their son, Adam, 19, in a practice crash at New Hampshire International Speedway in 2000.

“If Kyle hears about anyone who has crossed his path or a friend of a friend who has lost a child, even a total stranger, he is the first to pick up the phone and spend hours talking to them,” Wood said. “That takes a tremendous amount of strength. For someone in the public eye as much as he has been his entire life, and with (Victory Junction Gang) Camp a constant reminder of Adam, I don’t know anyone who could have been so strong and let the legacy of Adam live on as well as it has. Kyle is living for Adam in a lot of ways.”

Adam’s legacy most prominently lives in Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C., founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty to honor Adam and his vision of providing a year-round camping environment for children ages six to 16 with chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses. Victory Junction’s (www.victoryjunction.org) mission is to provide life-changing camping experiences that are exciting, fun and empowering, in a safe and medically-sound environment, and always free of charge to the families. Since the camp’s inception, more than 16,000 children and families have received not only a circle of support but experiences thought to only be possible for healthy children.

Wood is a prominent player in the fundraising effort for Camp each year, volunteering both at Camp and participating in this week’s Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America.

“The coolest thing is to be in these tiny little towns out in the middle of nowhere and lining the street are people holding signs saying, ‘We miss you, Adam’ or ‘We love what you do, Kyle,’ Wood said. “Seeing the folks in these small towns rally around what the Charity Ride stands for is amazing. For me, it’s one of those moments that make this all real. When you get to do something as simple as hopping on a motorcycle to raise money so that kids with illnesses can be normal kids for one week is one of the coolest things anybody could ever do. People think Disney World is the happiest place on earth, but when you’re at Camp with these children and you see their faces light up because no one tells them, ‘No, you can’t do that because you’re sick’ you realize Camp truly is the happiest place in the world.”

Petty’s appreciation for his friend’s dedication to the causes closest to his family’s heart is apparent.

“Rutledge brings life to Camp and the Charity Ride,” Petty said. “He brings so much energy, enthusiasm and laughter. That’s what Camp and the Ride are all about. That’s what being at the race track is all about. It’s about enjoying yourself, watching others enjoy themselves and doing something you love. None of this is a job.”