Chick-fil-A, Petty family team up for Charity Ride

By Anthony Rhoads and Doug Gorman

When the 10th annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America hits the road later this year, it will have the official support of Chick-fil-A.

During a press conference inside the Atlanta Motor Speedway media center on Friday, a long-term partnership was announced between the Kyle Petty Charity Ride and the Georgia-based restaurant chain.

The partnership unites one of NASCAR's most famous racing families in the Pettys, and the Truett Cathy, founder and CEO of Chick-fil-A, and his family. Cathy's oldest son, Dan, rode along with the Charity Ride last year with Chick-fil-A as an unofficial sponsor.

Charity is an important part of both families lives.

The beneficiary of the annual charity ride will be Victory Junction Gang Camp. The camp was started by Kyle and Pattie Petty in memory of their son Adam, who was killed in a racing accident in 2000.

From racing to the ministry: As a teen-ager Charles Shoemaker was one of the top up-and-coming young local drivers.

The 2001 Henry County High School graduate at one time held track records at Lanier and Senoia speedways and was planning on getting a motorsports engineering degree from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

But now he has a higher calling as he wants to become a minister.

Shoemaker is currently working on getting an associate's degree from Gordon College. From there he wants to earn a bachelor's degree in communications and is looking to go to Clayton State. After he gets his four-year degree, he wants to go to seminary school.

"He feels called to go into the ministry," his father Jon Shoemaker sad. "Right now, he's putting his racing on hold. I kind of miss the racing but you can't say no when he has a calling for the ministry."

Sutton honored: Kelly Sutton, a rookie driver on the Craftsman Truck Series, recently received the Gene Autry Courage Award, presented to athletes who have overcome hardships and disabilities. Sutton competes in racing despite being afflicted with multiple sclerosis.

Sutton, who drives the No. 02 Team Copaxone Chevrolet, is one of two females competing in today's EasyCare Vehicle Service Contracts 200. Tina Gordon, from Cedar Bluff, Ala., will drive the No. 13 Vassarett/Microtel Chevrolet today.

Tammy Jo Kirk was the first female competitor on the Craftsman Truck Series when she made her debut in 1997. Her 11th-place finish at Topeka that year remains a record for female drivers in the series.

Georgia guys: Jonesboro native Joey Clandon isn't the only Georgia driver in today's Craftsman Truck Series race.

Shane Sieg, from Tucker, and Bill Lester, from Mableton, are regulars on the truck circuit. Sieg drives the No. 07 Auto Air Color Chevrolet and Lester drives the No. 22 Lidrock Toyota.

Lester will start fifth today, Sieg 30th and Clanton 32nd.

Toyota making a mark in NASCAR: This season marks the first year Toyota has been involved in a NASCAR series. This year, seven Craftsman Truck Series drivers are competing in Toyotas including Lester, Terry Cook, David Reutimann, Hank Parker Jr., Shelby Howard and Mike Skinner.

It is the first season a foreign manufacturer has been in NASCAR.

In qualifying Friday for today's race, four out of the top five and six out of the top 10 trucks were Toyotas.

"It is unbelievable the amount of support they are giving their drivers," Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark said. "I think it's time Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge look at their support."

Popeye the Sailor Man: One of the country's most popular Saturday morning cartoons and the nation's fastest growing sport are getting ready to team together.

Popeye, the popular spinach-eating cartoon character, and Evernham motor sports will hook up during the night race in July at the Daytona Motorspeedway as teammates Jeremy Mayfield and Kasey Kahne drive special limited edition cars feature images from assorted Popeye comic strips.

Die-cast collectors will also have the opportunity to get in on the event as Action Performance creates replicas of the themed cars.

"Growing up, Saturday morning wasn't complete without watching Popeye on television," said Mayfield.