When the green flag flies on the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday, one team will be hoping to make a difference on and off the track. Victory Junction - Orbit Racing unveiled its plan of attack for the season Thursday, which involves NASCAR star Kyle Petty taking turns of the wheel over the course of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season.
Petty, whom along with wife Patty founded the Victory Junction Gang Camp, teams with road racing veterans Darren Manning and Bill Lester as well as businessman turned racer Leo Hindery in Saturday's twice-around-the-clock marathon. Lester will take the reigns of the BMW Riley Daytona Prototype for the entire 12-round season, while Manning is also on board for the season and will likely share the co-driver seat with Petty for select rounds.
The team is a collaboration between Petty, Hindery and former SAMAX team owner Peter Baron, all reaching out towards one goal: to raise awareness for the Petty's camp, which serves children with health issues. The first camp in North Carolina began in 2004 while a new facility in Missouri will break ground later this year. With an already strong following in NASCAR, the goal is to now build momentum in Grand-Am.
"We felt like this was the perfect opportunity for us to expand our base with camp," Petty said. "To be associated with Darren Manning, to be associated with Bill Lester, for what they bring to the table, not only as drivers, but as human beings. That's important to us as a brand."
This weekend, Coca-Cola has come on board as the primary sponsor, and Petty hopes a variety of other Victory Junction supporters will appear on the DP throughout the season. Petty, who has been left without a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride following the merger of Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Petty Enterprises, has now shifted gears to sportscar racing, as well as an expanded role in televison.
"I'm at the stage in life: I'm 48, so I still want to drive a racecar," Petty said. "I'm not willing to give up hanging onto a steering wheel for a couple more years no matter what. But I am smart enough to know that I need to be in another place in life too. When you look at that and you look at the caliber of drivers we have with Bill Lester and Darren Manning, I don't need to be the guy that's getting in the way either. I want the team to win races and win championships, and that's what it's all about."
Lester was in a similar boat in 2007 when he was left without a ride in the NASCAR Truck Series and moved to Grand-Am competition. After a partial season with RVO Motorsports in 2007, he teamed with the Southard Motorsports squad last year. With nearly two seasons under his belt, Lester feels back at home with his road racing roots.
"I'm not looking back at that, I'm looking forward," Lester said of his past in NASCAR. "This is my home. I enjoy this racing. This is what I started out doing whey back when. It feels comfortable, like a well-worn shoe. I'm looking forward to now being with a team where I feel has all the tools needed to be successful."