Common tragedy makes for special bond between Kyle Petty and the Lairds

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From left: Kyle Petty visits with MIke and Andrea Laird during a stopover in Ten Sleep during Petty’s ride across America. Petty spent six days biking from Walla Walla, Washington, to Milwaukee. Photo by Barbara Anne Greene

Last Tuesday in the cold rain, Andrea and Mike Laird met Kyle and Morgan Petty in Ten Sleep. Both couples have lost a son in a car accident.

In 2000, fourth-generation NASCAR driver Adam Petty, the 19-year-old son of Kyle and Pattie Petty, was killed on a racetrack. Five months after his death, the Pettys worked with actor Paul Newman and his nonprofit, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, to found the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, North Carolina, as a memorial to their late son.
Kyle and second wife Morgan were in Wyoming as part of the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America. The seven-day ride started May 13 in Walla Walla, Washington, and ended May 19 in Milwaukee.

Morgan Petty talked about the ride and the camp during an interview on Tuesday. She said that Kyle started the charity ride in 1995 as a fun ride with some friends. “As they went they picked up different riders along the way. They realized hey we could raise money and help people out and do something for the community. It was also a way for their sponsors in racing to let them out of work for a week.”

The ride got bigger and bigger as the years went on. This year there were 125 motorcycles and 225 people. “We’re all about raising money for the Victory Junction in North Carolina.”
She added that they had kids at camp with chronic illnesses from all over the country as well six countries.

“Twenty-eight thousand kids and their families have gone camping free of charge. Kids that can’t attend traditional summer camp can attend camp and feel like normal kids and experience all the same things that other kids experience at camp. Bowling, horseback riding, zip line, fishing — you name it, they can do it.”

The Lairds lost son Brendon, 18, in a car accident three years ago. They too took a tragedy and created a memorial that gives back to students in this community. They also donated Brendon’s organs so that six other people could live.

So how did this meeting come to be? Laird Sanitation received a call from the charity ride people who wanted to rent portable toilets for their stop in Ten Sleep. During the call, Mike told them about the loss of Brendon.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to help out both organizations. The Kyle Petty Foundation’s Victory Junction camp and the Brendon Laird Memorial,” said Laird. Later he received a call from Morgan Petty who said she heard about Brendon and was struck by the similarities of both losing a son in an auto accident.

After a few phone calls and some emails exchanged between Morgan and Mike, a bond was created. Laird donated the cost of the toilets. Morgan asked Mike and Andrea to be in Ten Sleep so she and Kyle could meet them in person. She also said she would bring items autographed by Richard Petty and Kyle for the Brendon Laird Memorial June 3 in Greybull.
Also on the ride were NASCAR racer “Handsome” Harry Gant and football great Herschel Walker.

The students waving flags lined the streets in Ten Sleep. The original plan was for Petty to set up tables to autograph but with the rain and being told that it was snowing on the mountain the stop was cut short. The group was headed to east with plans to stop in Gillette and stay the night in Deadwood, South Dakota.

The moment when the Pettys and Lairds met and talked was poignant. Drawn together by a common loss that each couple chose to use for good. Later the Lairds shared their feelings about the day and the Pettys. Mike said that he was moved to tears when Morgan and Andrea’s eyes met. “They both had that look of great sadness and understanding. I felt that too when Kyle and I met face to face. He said he was touched by our story and was glad we came to meet them. This is something they didn’t have to do, but they did.” said Mike.

Andrea said, “It meant a lot to me. The unfortunate loss that put us together in this ‘club’ that no one wants to be a member of.”

The Pettys said they had much respect for the Lairds and how they too had taken their loss and used it to help others. “When we heard their story we had to meet them,” said Morgan. She hopes to send some additional items for the auction. Kyle thanked the Lairds for taking the time to come to Ten Sleep to meet with them. He also told the school kids how much it meant for the riders and him to come into town and see the flags waving. “God bless you,” Kyle said.

Mike and Andrea are even bigger fans of Kyle than they were before and not just because of the common bond. Before the group left Kyle used the PA system in Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness patrol vehicle to address the motorcyclists.

First, he explained to them the conditions of the highway. “It is snowing, but it is not sticking to the road. You’re going to encounter some switchbacks. Take it slow. Safety is always number one.” He continued by telling the group to watch out for each other, and he would see them on the other side of the mountain.

Petty then stepped to the front of the line of motorcycles and motioned for them to take off. As each cycle passed, he spoke to each of them with words like “God bless.” “Take it slow.” “Be safe.” “Watch out for each other.” He was the last cycle to get on the road.

Scholarships

The scholarships are meant to encourage students to get a higher education and better the community. Brendon wanted to go to college to be a welder. “So we decided that our scholarships would go to those seeking education in agriculture or vocational fields,” said Mike Laird.

This year six seniors from Greybull High School each received a $1,000 educational scholarship from the Brendon Laird Memorial. Typically three seniors from both GHS and Riverside High Schools receive awards. Only one student from Riverside High School applied this year, and she ended up not qualifying.

The GHS seniors were Gabe Keisel, Dasha Kelso, Stevi Wamhoff, Elias Ewen, Jake Harold and Dawson Forcella.

Jamie Keisel said this about her son getting the scholarship. “When you have children that are your world and then lose one, it has to be devastating. As a parent of a son who is a recipient of the scholarship in that child’s name, you hope your child will honor his memory, that your child will use the money to move forward and accomplish their goal. We are so honored and touched.”

Gabe echoed his mom’s thoughts, saying, “It felt really good because it is in his honor. Brendon was one of my better friends when was a freshman and sophomore.”

Elias Ewen said “When Mr. and Mrs. Laird called my name at our senior scholarship night to receive the Laird Scholarship, I felt so relieved. The scholarship will help me tremendously at Northwest College.”

Stevi Wamhoff’s plans are to study nursing at Sheridan College. She had this to say about the scholarship she received. “I feel it’s an honor that they are supporting me in my future of helping other people.”