CHARLOTTE — Governor Pat McCrory and the NC Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development announced today the recipients of the Winner’s Circle awards, given annually since 2004 to people who have made significant and continuing contributions to the growth and success of North Carolina’s tourism industry. The 2014 honorees include: Richard Petty, charter member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Horace Holden, Aurelia Kennedy and Payson Kennedy, founders of the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and Ron Kimble, Charlotte Deputy City Manager.
“We congratulate this year’s recipients for their lasting impact on tourism in the state,” said Gov. McCrory. “Tourism is such an important economic driver for us, and it’s visionaries like these who have helped develop all the diverse and unique attractions we enjoy in North Carolina. Tourism is an industry that touches every county in North Carolina.”
Gov. McCrory participated in the Winner’s Circle awards luncheon in Charlotte today as part of the three-day Governor’s Conference on Tourism. The state’s largest gathering of the tourism industry brings together nearly 500 leaders from resorts, attractions, destination marketing organizations, hotels/motels, real estate rental companies, restaurants and retail outlets each year to learn about the latest trends and issues facing the travel industry.
More on the 2014 Winner’s Circle recipients:
Richard Petty, a charter member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, is the most decorated driver in NASCAR history with a record 200 career wins and seven NASCAR Cup championships. Born in Level Cross, Petty began his NASCAR career when he was 21 and drove 1,184 races. “The King” has been elected to the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame, International Motorsports Hall of Fame, North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. A decade ago, Petty donated 84 acres to establish Victory Junction, a camp for chronically ill children, in honor of grandson Adam Petty, who died while practicing for a race. Petty’s NASCAR history, his race shop and museum, and his unwavering support of tourism in Randolph County mark the significance of his contributions to tourism in North Carolina.
Horace Holden, Aurelia Kennedy and Payson Kennedy founded Nantahala Outdoor Center in 1972, the year the movie “Deliverance” was released and whitewater kayaking debuted as an Olympic sport. Before long, the Atlanta natives had turned their visionary venture into one of the world’s premier guide services, inspiring a generation of outdoor adventurers and producing more than 20 Olympic athletes, including Horace Holden Jr. Fueled by ideals and a passion for the river, the enterprise grew to include treks on the Nantahala and six other rivers, a paddling school, kayak tours, fly fishing, hiking, a zipline adventure park, bike rentals, retail and, just a stone’s throw from the Appalachian Trail, the River’s End Restaurant, which Aurelia Kennedy nurtured as a destination in its own right. In 2005, Payson Kennedy earned a spot in the first class of the International Whitewater Hall of Fame. The trio’s labor of love reached new heights with the NOC’s successful bid to host the ICF Freestyle World Championship in the Nantahala Gorge in September 2013, and coming in 2015, the IFC Wildwater Canoeing Junior World Championships.
Ron Kimble, Charlotte Deputy City Manager, has been a force in establishing new signatures of Queen City tourism. Kimble, whose responsibilities encompass hospitality and tourism, economic development, redevelopment and intergovernmental relations, joined the city staff in 2000, while Governor Pat McCrory was mayor. Kimble has led initiatives including the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Levine Center for the Arts, AAA Baseball, the US National Whitewater Center and the NC Music Factory. Most recently he helped negotiate to bring the 2014 Triple-A National Championship Game to BB&T Ballpark, the Charlotte Knights’ soon-to-open stadium. Kimble, who earned degrees in Accounting and Business Administration from University of Kansas, served 10 years as Greenville’s city manager before moving to Charlotte.