Kyle Petty said he’d like to see a list of the strangest things people have Googled during the pandemic. What wouldn’t be considered strange to Petty, however, is that anyone can find dozens of videos of the NASCAR celebrity sitting at home, playing his guitar and singing songs he’s written for his family and fans during the pandemic.
Petty has posted more than 30 music videos on Facebook since last spring in a series he calls “Quarantunes with KP,” an account that has hit almost 200,000 followers.
“I just got in a mood,” Petty, 60, said. “I just was in a place where I was writing a lot of stuff, some good, some bad, and I threw it all out there and some of it stuck.”
The son of Richard Petty has garnered a loyal fan following for more than his NASCAR career, but certain videos still reflect his racing roots. He performed his 1995 song, “Oh King Richard,” for his father’s 83rd birthday in July. He said that one day, he’d like to release an album for all the songs.
Petty spoke with The Observer about the growth of Quarantunes, the decision to postpone his annual cross-country motorcycle ride for charity and why he considers quarantine a blessing for his young family.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
Alex Andrejev: You recently had to postpone the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America for a second time due to the pandemic. Why was that significant given the history of the ride?
Kyle Petty: We had run for 25 consecutive years until the pandemic. We had been around since the early to mid-90s. We had started it, myself, Don Tilley from Tilley Harley-Davidson, Click Baldwin from Carolina Harley-Davidson in Gastonia, Robin Pemberton, a few of us just wanted to ride across the country and we decided we would do it for charity. We’d stop at different children’s hospitals and that’s what we did. That very first year, man, we rode from LA and as soon as the trip was over we went back to Charlotte and we thought, “Woo! Never getting any better than this! This is the greatest trip of a lifetime!” We stopped at different children’s hospitals and gave a donation and toured the hospitals. It was just fun. We just had a good time and we felt like we had left some goodwill behind coming across the United States for NASCAR and for the drivers. And then the next year, some of those guys said, “Hey, let’s do that again,” and we did it again and again and again, and then one day we looked back and we had done five, 10, 15, 20 and we made it to 25 (rides) and then the pandemic hit.
#ThrowbackThursday to 2018 when @KPCharityRide made its last stop of their ride here at camp! #DidYouKnow as of January 2020, the Ride has funded camp experiences for more than 8,200 kids? pic.twitter.com/C2YUchWisk
— Victory Junction (@VictoryJunction) January 21, 2021
The first six or seven years were about visiting children’s hospitals, St. Jude’s to Children’s Mercy, UCLA Medical Center. We just went to children’s hospitals and gave donations so families could pay their bills for medical expenses. Then when my oldest son Adam was killed, we built the camp here in North Carolina at Victory Junction. Since that time, since 2000, almost all of our proceeds have gone to sending kids to camp and helping create an empowering experience for children with life threatening illnesses and chronic illnesses, so that kind of changed.
We were supposed to go in 2020, and then that had to be postponed. We were going to do it in 2021, but where we were going on this motorcycle ride (Ariz.) and the plan we had was to go from Phoenix to Lake Havasu to Flagstaff, up around the Grand Canyon, to Bryce Canyon (Utah) over to Monument Valley down to Sedona and then back down to Phoenix. That’s the heart of the Navajo (Nation), where there’s a big reservation. That community, if you’ve followed COVID news for the last year and half, has been ravaged by the coronavirus. We don’t want to bring more corona to them. We don’t want to come into their community and endanger them, and we can’t see a way to keep our riders safe taking them all the way across the country, so we talked to our partners, Cox Automotive, Harley-Davidson, Coca-Cola, and we decided we kick the can down the road another year and do something different, so we made it 25 years and now we’ve been postponed because of the pandemic a few years, but we’ll be back. We’ll make it happen.
AA: How long does it typically take for the trip?
KP: It’s a seven-day journey. Our 25th ride, the last ride we were on, was our longest (distance). We went from Seattle, Wash. to Key Largo, Fla., which is crazy. We had done LA to Charlotte, Maine to Miami, we had been all over, everywhere, but we had never gone that way across the country. That ride, the latest ride in the books, is the longest ride. Most of the time we’ll leave on a Saturday and get to wherever we’re going on a Friday. We have done some longer rides, but we have done some rides where we’ve done it over a nine-day period because we were in such rural areas.
AA: Any idea what the timeline is for the next ride? 2022?
KP: We are following the CDC guidelines just like everybody else. The vaccine, I think, for everyone is a huge light. It may be just a flicker at the end of the tunnel right now, but it gets brighter everyday ... I do believe that we are headed in the right direction. If you listen to the doctors, if you listen to the briefings and if you wear your face mask, if you wash your hands, if you do the common sense things, it appears that we are headed in the right direction, so give it sixth months, give it a year. The roads are still going to be there. The Grand Canyon is still going to be there, Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, they’re still going to be there. So even if it takes us another couple of years to get there, we will live in a safer world and that’s what we care about.
AA: You’ve been doing these popular vlog videos on Facebook and Instagram during quarantine and recording your “Quarantunes” songs. What have you been learning through that platform?
KP: You know, it’s been fun. It has. I think it was hard to imagine in the beginning that it was going to be this long. That the world and the world that I live in was going to end up the way it was — that us, myself, Dale Jarrett, Krista Voda doing NBC — that we would just be going to a studio to do NBC, that we wouldn’t be going to the racetrack last year. It was also fascinating to me that race car drivers just showed up on a Sunday, sat down in a car and went and raced with no practice or anything. They have become my superheroes, every guy that sits in one of those cars, because I can’t imagine after my years of driving a race car, doing anything like that. That’s a phenomenal feat in any sport. So it’s been strange to just be in that bubble.
At the same time, it has been maybe the most amazing time of my life being with (wife) Morgan and watching (two-year-old son) Overton grow and flourish during this time because he has Morgan and I around 24/7. We’re there morning to afternoon. And to have another child, to have (five-month old son) Cotten born in the middle of this in August, it was just a huge blessing. Being able to spend that time together has been a blessing, and I think people that have had children during this will look at it that way. I know I definitely look at it that way...And I know that it has been a devastating time for so many families. Don’t downplay that and don’t belittle that in any way, shape or form, but for us and my little family of four, of Overton and Morgan and Cotten, it has been a huge blessing for us.
AA: Was that a surprise for you?
KP: Huge surprise. I think it evolved. I know it sounds crazy, but when I was growing up and around when my grandparents, my mothers parents in particular, my grandmother always used to say, “We didn’t always used to have T.V. You guys can go outside. Y’all can go do something, you know.” And all of the sudden you have T.V. and then you have computers and then you have video games and you have iPhones and you have so many things that you can sit in a room with six people and never speak to anyone. You just spend all your time in your phone or on your computer. The pandemic sent a lot of families in some way, shape or form back to “Leave it to Beaver” in 1950 where you actually had to talk to your wife. You actually had to talk to your kids. You actually had to talk to the person sitting across the table from you. And that, for me, it slowed life down. Life just took a step back off the treadmill and slowed everything down and you were able to look around and say, “Man, this is amazing. This is really a special time that once the world cranks back up we may never have an opportunity like this again.” I hope we never have an opportunity for this reason ever ever ever again, but for families, you just get back on the treadmill. Right now we’re off the treadmill and it’s a nice place to be.
AA: With Quarantunes, same question there. There are probably a lot more people on social media now just scrolling and looking for something to lighten their mood.
KP: That is the deal. There are so many more people on social media just looking up stuff. “Well let’s see if Kyle Petty ever sang a song. Oh my gosh, he sang a song! Here it is!” You Google the craziest things. I’d like to see a list of craziest things Googled during the pandemic, because people were Googling everything. So it was an opportunity, and I threw those first few (songs) out there and you get 100 likes and you’re like, “That’s good, man! I’m in triple digits here. I got 300 people or 100 people liking it.” And then it kept moving along, so it has been fun to watch it grow. It’s been fun to read the comments from different people. Some songs are serious. Some songs are lighthearted. Some songs touch a chord with people. From a musician and from writing, that’s all you can ever hope for, is something that you wrote touched somebody in some way, whether it made ‘em laugh or whether it made ‘em cry, it made ‘em think ... and that’s been fun, and that’s where the quarantunes thing just kind of came. I just got in a mood. I just was in a place where I was writing a lot of stuff, some good, some bad, and I threw it all out there and some of it stuck and some of it, you will never hear again unless you Google it and look it up, you won’t have to hear it again because I probably won’t play it again.
AA: Is there any plan to compile these and do some sort of album at some point?
KP: *Laughs* You know what, I would like to. Dolphus Ramseur from Ramseur Records. He manages the Avett Brothers and does their stuff. Dolph and I have become friends and every now and then we’ll talk about, “Hey, we really need to do something.” And I’m like (emphatically), “Yes we do,” and then we never do anything. We’re gonna do something. There will be something when some of this stuff blows over and we can all talk again and get back out in the world. I’ve written enough that I think out of 100 (songs) you can at least get enough for six or seven songs that people say, “Yeah, that’s decent. I’ll listen to that.” I promise that we will put something out eventually.
AA: Final question since the NASCAR season is coming up, any Daytona 500 predictions?
KP: No, I don’t think you can make a prediction anymore. It used to be you knew Jeff (Gordon) was going to be tough. You knew Dale Sr. was going to be tough. You knew, back in the old days, Pearson and Petty and the Allisons were going to be tough, Yarborough, you just knew when you went there. And now you go down there and it’s crazy to watch it. It’s like watching a roulette table. You just spin it and then at the end when they get to the last lap, whoever is up front, wins the race. They do it by talent, skill, pit calls and strategy and put themselves in position to win. It’s not just about outrunning everybody like it used to be. It’s a different kind of race. I think my magic eight ball is gathering dust, because I don’t believe I’ve made a prediction for the Daytona 500 in a long, long time because of that. Because you just don’t know when you go down there.