Kim Hill was on her way back from a mission trip with 19 other women and a teenage boy when a tire went flat. She never expected NASCAR legend Kyle Petty to help her fix it.
Hill and a group from Trinity Baptist Church were 30 miles from Columbia, S.C., when the tire on a trailer they were pulling blew. She pulled the church van over, and as she, anotherwomen and the 13-year-old son of one woman tried changing the tire. "Nobody was stopping," she said.
They had trouble jacking the trailer up. Then, a gaggle of "about 250 motorcycle riders went past."
One turned around and stopped, she said.
"He asked 'Is it just you ladies?' We said yeah, and he said "flat tire?" and we said yeah."
The pony-tailed man got off his cycle and began helping.
The women noticed the tee shirts all the motorcycle riders had been wearing, advertising the 13th Annual Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America. But when some of the women began pointing and whispering "That's Kyle Petty," Hill wasn't sure.
Her daughter Jessica was doubtful as well, since every rider had been wearing the same shirt. But then someone spied the kind stranger's luggage tag.
"It read 'Petty, Kyle,'" Hill said.
Jessica Hill decided to ask.
"She said 'Is it really you?' and he said 'who?' and grinned a little bit," she said. "Then she asked 'Are you really Kyle Petty?'"
It still wasn't clear, because the man said "yes," then "no, no, no" as he corrected the boy's efforts at changing the tire. The women were still unsure of whether the man helping them was the legendary Kyle Petty of NASCAR fame, son of long-time racing legend Richard Petty.
But "he finally told us it was him," Hill said. "He gave us a couple of autographs."
Petty was on his way to Florida, planning to ride through Statesboro and Brooklet as he participated in the 13th Annual Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America . After helping the women, he mounted his motorcycle and prepared to leave.
"I asked him 'Will they wait for you?' and he just smiled and said 'I'll catch up with them,'" she said. With a warning for them to "stop at the next exit and check the air and lug nuts," he was gone.
@Subhead:Ride stops in Brooklet
@Bodycopy: According to Internet web site www.kylepettycharityride.com, Petty, Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy, and more than 250 other participants including NASCAR celebrities, ride sponsors and motorcycle enthusiasts, traveled more than 2,800 miles in eight days from the East coast through the Blue Ridge Mountains and ending at the beaches of Florida.
The Statesboro Herald was not informed about the ride beforehand, and efforts to reach a spokesman at the charity ride headquarters Friday were not successful.
But Hill and her friends knew Petty would be coming through Statesboro and Brooklet Thursday morning, and they were waiting for him at the Brooklet Citgo, she said.
When Petty stopped to help them, the church members were all wearing lime green tee shirts. "We all went home and washed them and wore them the next day," she said.
The women lined up along U.S. 80 East with a large sign reading "Thank You Kyle Petty," and one of Hill's relatives brought out a "raggedy blown out tire" to place beside the sign.
They knew Petty would stop, because it was a planned part of his trip to visit local boy Christopher Schmidt, who was paralyzed due to an accidental gunshot wound a few years ago, she said.
Schmidt's family was not immediately available for comment.
Petty appeared surprised when he saw the women waiting for him, she said. "He got off that motorcycle and his eyes were this big."
But Petty took care of his business first before addressing the women's welcome. "He spent some time with Christopher, then he autographed some tee shirts and took pictures," she said.
Petty took the time out for Schmidt because it goes hand in hand with what the charity ride is all about, Hill said.
According to the web site, ride donated $1.2 million to the Victory Junction Gang Camp and other children’s charities last year.
"The Victory Junction Gang Camp is a not-for-profit organization founded by NASCAR driver Kyle Petty and his wife, Pattie, in honor of their son Adam," according to information from the web site. " Located on 72 acres in Randleman, N.C., the camp opened its doors in 2004 to enrich the lives of children with chronic or life-threatening illnesses by creating camping experiences that are memorable, exciting, fun, empowering, physically safe and medically sound."
“The Charity Ride gets bigger and better every year thanks to the unbelievable support of our faithful riders, sponsors and fans,” said Petty in a statement published on the site. “Pattie and I deeply appreciate the individuals across the nation whose generosity touches the lives of deserving children and their families. We are excited to shake things up a bit this year and travel the East Coast – and to see our fans, who give us the energy and motivation to keep going.”
The 2007 Chick-fil-A Kyle Petty Charity Ride began in Bar Harbor, Maine, July 14. Petty and the group stopped once overnight in Augusta and the ride ended Friday in Hollywood, Fla.
Hill and many others were excited and pleased that Petty stopped in Brooklet, but the mission group from Trinity Baptist Church have a unique memory in Petty helping change the flat tire.
"He's such a nice, humble person," Hill said. "If we had not recognized him, we would have never known it was him."Neither she nor her daughter are NASCAR fans, although they will watch races on occasion. However, several family members are big NASCAR enthusiasts and were astounded when they learned of the mission group's experience, Hill said. Even though they may not be passionate over racing, " everybody knows Kyle Petty."