Petty keeps the motor running

September 17, 1994|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

Kyle Petty gets paid to drive his Pontiac Grand Prix every weekend. He sees the same drivers, the same pit crews, the same raceways and, if he's lucky, the same checkered flag.

To break the monotony of Winston Cup racing, Petty heads for America's highways on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He has seen the Snake River Canyon of Arizona, the streets of downtown Manhattan and the Poconos. It is his way of relaxing, seeing the country and getting to his next race.

"You get on a motorcycle, and it's just you and the sound of the bike," said Petty, who will be at Dover Downs International

Speedway for tomorrow's SplitFire Spark Plug 500. "It's like being in one of those theaters at Disney World. Except if you see something interesting, you just stop."

Petty grew up in Level Cross, N.C., where he learned to ride motorcycles before he raced cars. That's because his father, Richard, forbid him from racing go-carts. The King of NASCAR let his son ride motorcycles instead.

Today, Kyle has five Harleys. Last Christmas, he bought one for his father. Kyle was tired of the King acting like the world's expert on two-wheelers.

"Every time I saw him, he would say, 'If you would only do this to the bike, it'd look better,' " Kyle said. "That's why I bought him one. I said, 'You don't tell me about mine; do it to your own bike.' "

Richard, who retired from active racing in 1992, has ridden with Kyle on their motorcycles to his son's races in Wilkesboro, N.C., and Martinsville, Va. But riding to Dover, Del., or Phoenix on a Harley is out of the question for the man who won 200 Winston Cup races.

The King takes out his motorcycle only on short trips. "He's about a 100-150-mile kind of a guy," Kyle said.

Not so Kyle. Last spring, he took his Harley to Dover for the Budweiser 500. After the race he and other members of his racing team kept going, on their motorcycles. He even videotaped what they called the 98th Annual Hey Buddy Tour. The tapes sell for $13.95.

It sounded like a blast.

First, they got lost in New York City at 2 in the morning, finally arriving at The Plaza Hotel around 3. The valet parked their motorcycles. "They were the only hotel we could find in the city that would guarantee the safety of our motorcycles," Petty said. "We ended up staying at The Plaza because of that."

Then they took their Harleys to New Hampshire, Saratoga, N.Y., and finally to the Poconos. The eight-day, 1,700-mile trip did not exhaust Kyle, it invigorated him. He finished first at the Champion Spark Plug 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Kyle hasn't won a Winston Cup race since.

This time Kyle will make the motorcycle trip to Dover by himself. His primary biking companion, team manager Robin Pemberton, was fired by owner Felix Sabates in June. Sabates replaced Pemberton. A no-nonsense businessman, Sabates wanted more discipline on his team.

Even Petty, who is known for being laid-back, said that things probably had gotten out of hand. "We were probably a little bit too relaxed," said Petty.

But that doesn't mean he has stopped relaxing on his motorcycle.

"It hasn't all changed," Petty said.

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