Let us now praise Kyle Petty.

Kyle Petty doesn't have a NASCAR Sprint Cup ride this season, and he certainly won't be part of the combined Petty/Gillett Evernham organisation.

Kyle Petty doesn't have a NASCAR Sprint Cup ride this season, and he certainly won't be part of the combined Petty/Gillett Evernham organisation.

Nevertheless, the legacy Kyle Petty leaves is likely to be as monumental as that of his father, Richard Petty, a 200-time Cup winner and a seven-time Cup champion.

Kyle Petty's legacy is born of tragedy, not triumph. His son Adam died May 12, 2000 from injuries sustained in a crash during practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kyle Petty refers to his son's death as "Adam's accident". When the accident occurred, Adam was still two months away from his 20th birthday.

As a driver, Adam was to have carried the vaunted Petty banner into the 21st century. Those dreams ended at Loudon.

From the devastating grief of that loss came Victory Junction Gang Camp, which Kyle and wife Pattie Petty established in Adam's memory. Through the camp, which serves children ages 6-16 with chronic and serious illnesses, the Pettys have welcomed thousands of children into their extended family.

For a multitude of reasons, Victory Junction as a concept has resonated throughout the NASCAR community and beyond. The unrelenting commitment of Kyle and Pattie Petty is a powerful magnet, one that attracts significant support from NASCAR's top stars.

A substantial portion of proceeds from Prelude to the Dream, the annual event Tony Stewart hosts at his own Eldora Speedway in Ohio, benefits Victory Junction. In 2008, Stewart presented Petty a check for $1 million after the race. The Jimmie Johnson Foundation donated $600,000 to add a bowling alley to the camp.

NASCAR president Mike Helton put a prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle up for sale at last weekend's Sound & Speed celebration in Nashville. In a live auction benefiting Victory Junction and the Country Music Hall of Fame, Helton's bike brought $30,000 when it was gavelled down at the Wild Horse Saloon.

Money is fuel for the furnace of Petty's vision. He has announced plans for a camp in Kansas City to complement the original facility in Randleman, N.C., though Petty says the floundering economy has slowed progress on the second camp. Ultimately, Petty would like to establish facilities throughout the country.

Though Petty's tenure with his namesake organisation ended last year with his final ride in the #45 Petty Dodge, he doesn't need the cachet of being a full-time Sprint Cup driver to accomplish his goals.

For Kyle, Petty Enterprises ceased to exist as such when the shop moved from Level Cross, N.C., to Mooresville, N.C. The subsequent partnership with Boston Ventures (June 2008) and merger with Gillett Evernham (announced this month) have only distanced the organization farther from its roots, in Petty's view.

"For me, when they left Level Cross, it was a different place," Petty said last Saturday at Sound & Speed, which raised approximately $800,000 annually for its charities in 2005, 2006 and 2007 (figures for 2008 aren't available yet). "I went over there (to the new shop) maybe five times in the whole year that we raced.

"I didn't go over there, because it wasn't Petty Enterprises. I grew up next to that race shop. It was right there. It was Petty Enterprises. That's where all the guys worked... When they moved somewhere else, it was something different... Then, when Boston Ventures bought it, it's not even close to Petty Enterprises.

"I pretty much knew when they came in and started doing some stuff that I had no place there in '09."

Petty will run selected races in the Grand Am Series this year, including the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona International Speedway in late January. He'd welcome a part-time Cup ride, too, should an opportunity present itself.

In February, the #43 Dodge will take to the track for the Petty/Gillett Evernham organization, with Reed Sorenson behind the wheel. Richard Petty will stride through the garage wearing his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses, signing autographs every step of the way.

As we follow the evolution of the Petty brand in NASCAR racing, however, let's also pay proper attention and respect to what Kyle Petty is doing away from the track.

His work is every bit as important - if not more so.

by Reid Spencer/Sporting News

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