Saturday, January 21, 2012

NASCAR Preview Brings Drivers To The Fans

The Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame were abuzz Saturday afternoon, as the 2012 NASCAR Preview brought the stars of NASCAR to the fans a month before the season officially kicks off in Daytona.

The day was full of autograph sessions with drivers from NASCAR’s top-three divisions, as well as NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees and media personalities The drivers ranged from 2011 Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart, to young Nationwide Series stars such as Timmy Hill and Blake Koch.

Fans could be heard bragging about short conversations they had with the drivers, the smiles they got and the perfect autograph on that hero card or souvenir. One teenage girl boasted to her father how Danica Patrick liked her new Stewart-Haas Racing t-shirt featuring Patrick's No. 10 Sprint Cup car.

"They're just really friendly, they're excited," Patrick said of the NASCAR fans in attendance. "You just really get that sense of care from many of them, and they're all wearing your shirts. They're just really into it. That's a good feeling for a driver, an athlete in general, to see someone cheering for you and your sport, and you're just part of something really big."

A number of tracks were also on hand Saturday, promoting their events and providing fan giveaways. Among those, was Bristol Motor Speedway. The track hosted a car unveiling and after party with the ever-popular Patrick in advance of their St. Patrick's Day Nationwide race.

Along with the autograph sessions and interactive events, fans were also able to enjoy things often held away from the public’s view. Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty rekindled memories of that famous day in 1993 in which The King made his final career start, just as Gordon was making his first.

Petty got a chuckle out of the crowd by describing a young Jeff Gordon as a "pipsqueak of a guy" who "looked about 14 years old."

Following the conversation, Gordon unveiled his DuPont paint scheme for 2012, commemorating the 20th anniversary of his partnership with the company.

Tony Stewart joined NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley to unveil a new exhibit in the Great Hall honoring Stewart's dramatic 2011 championship win. Stewart donated his firesuit, gloves, helmet and shoes worn during last year's season finale at Homestead, along with the check he was presented on stage, a champagne bottle and cork, as well as the tuxedo he wore to the awards banquet.

Walking around the convention center, fans posed next to the number of 2012 Sprint Cup Series cars, with new paint schemes and driver/team combinations drawing the most attention, as well as the three 2011 series champion cars and trophies.

Mainly absent from the event, however, were race cars from NASCAR's other divisions, namely the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.

While a number of Nationwide drivers were in attendance signing autographs, there were only two 2012 NASCAR Nationwide Series cars on display - one of which being Tony Stewart's No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Aside from the 2011 championship truck of Austin Dillon, there were no CWTS vehicles at the event.

According to a NASCAR spokesperson, Sprint Cup Series teams received the initial invites, with involvement coming on a first-come, first-serve basis. Due to limited space at the convention center and various building codes, the idea was to bring as many cars as possible for fans to enjoy.

Following the inaugural event, NASCAR will examine its success through fan feedback and evaluate what changes, if any, need to be made in the future.

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