How Motorcycles Provide Special Bond Between a Father and His Sons
Updated: Aug 16
Charity Rider Jon Manafort details the meaningful impact that the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America has made on his family.
Growing up across the street from a racetrack in Connecticut, Jon Manafort developed an early interest in racing. In fact, Jon’s been going to the Daytona 500 every year since he was 18 years old. He even dabbled in racing in his youth before eventually supporting his own sons, Jason and Justin, in the sport. Jason raced a NASCAR Busch North car, while Justin took on the NASCAR Modified series. The three of them even raced Legends cars together and they still sponsor cars to this day.
The Manafort’s used to have the “Area Racing News” paper delivered to their house and, one day, there was a story discussing how Kyle Petty was putting together a cross-country motorcycle ride. “I had just bought a brand-new Harley-Davidson at the time I read the article,” said Jon. “Having an interest in NASCAR and motorcycles made Kyle’s ride seem like the perfect fit.” So Jon and his cousin, Frank, loaded up their motorcycles and shipped them out to Sacramento for the inaugural Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America in 1995 – and the rest was history for Jon.
Jon was hooked after that first Ride and has been on every single Ride since. “The combination of motorcycles and NASCAR along with the ability to see parts of the country that I had never seen before – and probably never would have seen if it wasn’t for the Ride – that’s what captivated me,” said Jon.
As a family, the Manafort’s always had dirt bikes. Jon would often ride with his sons when they were kids. Their mutual love for dirt bikes led to the same passion for riding motorcycles. Once Jon got settled in on the Ride, he started to bring his sons with him. “I would bring Jason one year and Justin the next, and we just rotated for a while,” said Jon. “But for the past 15 years or so, they’ve both been coming because they enjoy it so much.”
Participating in the Ride together provides an incredible bonding experience for Jon, Jason and Justin. “It gives us another reason to spend time together,” said Jon. “We’re able to see the country and make memories together doing something we love – riding motorcycles.” Every year, there are a million laughs and fun memories made, but one part of the Ride that keeps the Manafort’s coming back is the scenery. A few places that stick out to Jon as highlights include Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Yellowstone National Park. “All of these places are foreign to a family from Connecticut,” said Jon.
“Because of the Ride, we’ve seen dozens of state and national parks and so many different cities, states and landscapes. To see it all with my boys makes it even more special. To ride across the country with your sons, it really doesn’t get much better than that.”
For Jon, it’s a pretty special feat to be able to say he’s been riding dirt bikes and motorcycles with his sons for more than 40 years – and now that includes their time together on the Ride. “The fact that we spend a solid week together every year on the Ride – where we are basically together 24/7 – has definitely made us closer and has created a lot of memories for me as a father that I can keep close to my heart.”
The second part of the Ride that keeps the Manafort’s coming back every year is the cause – raising money to send kids to camp at Victory Junction. “The racing interest and the motorcycle riding is one aspect of the Ride, but the charitable part is the heart of the Ride,” said Jon. “When we get to go to Victory Junction or see campers at gas stops, that’s when you realize the true impact of the Ride.” Seeing the direct result of the miles ridden and money raised from the Ride transfer to the smiling faces of the campers at Victory Junction has inspired the Manafort’s to expand their charitable efforts. “Jason and Justin both have taken in the experience of giving back on the Ride and applied it to causes in our home community,” said Jon. “As a father, that makes me very proud.”
Q+A with Jon Manafort:
1. How long have you been riding motorcycles?
“Probably about 60 years. I think I had my first dirt bike when I was 14 years old.”
2. If you could describe the Ride in one word, what would it be?
“Incredible. To me, the Ride was life-changing for a lot of reasons. It has just been a truly incredible experience.”
3. What part of the country do you enjoy riding in the most?
“The Southwest is very enjoyable for me. The landscape of the Southwest is completely foreign to someone who was born and raised in the Northeast, so it’s definitely been my favorite to explore.”
4. Do you have a favorite memory from the Ride?
“One year on the Ride, we visited Victory Junction while summer camp was in session. And that was a tremendous experience to actually see the kids at play and being care-free. It makes you understand how important the Ride truly is. All the miles we put in and the money we raise allows these kids to experience Victory Junction. At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids. Motorcycles are fun and racecar drivers are fun, but to see the kids and to know that what we do on the Ride makes a difference for the Camp is incredible.”