Goessel man to drive mower cross country

Josh Schmidt has embarked on one long road trip.

Schmidt is riding a Hustler lawnmower made at Excel Industries in Hesston across the country to raise funds for a camp for children who are chronically ill.

Excel employees gathered Feb. 22 at the Hesston plant for a send-off party to start the “Mow for Victory Tour.”

In July, the famous Petty racing team signed a deal to be featured in advertisements for the Hustler line of mowers, which are made by Excel.

The deal came about after Richard Petty bought four Hustlers for the grounds of Petty Enterprises in North Carolina-and liked what he saw.

The “Mow for Victory Tour” is a fund-raiser for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, a racing-themed camp in North Carolina opened by the Petty family.

The camp is for children ages 7 to 15 who have chronic or life-threatening illnesses. The children attend the camp for free.

The launch event included a video about the camp and speeches thanking the hundreds of Excel employees and sponsors who helped get the tour organized and the mower ready for its journey.

“So many of you have contributed to this,” said Ken Raney, advertising manager at Excel. “It was more than any one of us could have done.”

Excel is owned by Paul and Bob Mullet, both of Hesston.

The ride, which will begin Monday in San Bernadino, Calif., will cover 4,000 miles in 10 states, progressing between Hustler dealerships.

The trip is expected to end on May 28 at the Victory Junction Gang Camp in Randleman, N.C.

The Super Z Hustler mower Schmidt will be driving has been custom painted to look like Richard Petty’s No. 43 Dodge NASCAR race car.

Schmidt will be joined on the trip by Spike and Gloria Hostetler of Harper, who will drive a trailer along the route.

On Monday, the threesome and Raney will attend a press conference with Richard Petty at the California Speedway about the event.

Schmidt is the son of Fred and Brenda Schmidt, who live in Goessel. Fred is western region sales manager for Excel, and Brenda is director of marketing and housing at Schowalter Villa in Hesston.

Their son has been working at Excel for about a month, getting ready for the trip.

“There is a lot of America I haven’t seen, and I can make money for college,” he said about the trip.

“Also, it’s a fund-raiser for Victory Junction Gang Camp-which helps kids with illnesses-so it’s a good event.”

In late February, Schmidt took the mower for a 30-mile test drive. Its top speed for the journey: 19 miles per hour.

Schmidt took a semester off of college to take the trip. He said he’ll return to Kansas State University this fall to study business.

But for now, he’ll see the open road-and a lot of hotel rooms.

“It will definitely be an eye-opener,” Schmidt said.

Those interested in following the cross-country jaunt can see photos and a diary from the trip at www.mowforvictory.com. The route also is marked.

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