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Preview, Fans Are Back At The NASCAR Hall

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 22 2012

The NASCAR Preview was brought back this season and fans seemed to appreciate it. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images for NASCAR)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Rain and chilly temperatures failed to dampen the spirits of several thousand race fans who traveled to the Charlotte Convention Center and NASCAR Hall of Fame Saturday to meet their favorite drivers – past and present – at the NASCAR Preview presented by Sprint.

Several people slept on the sidewalk outside the building Friday night to guarantee they would obtain a wristband for their favorite driver’s autograph session. Wristband distribution began at 7 a.m. and continued for two hours. Officials distributed 250 wristbands per driver. A line stretching more than a city block quickly formed and, as usual, not everyone was happy as some missed obtaining a wristband.

A person could attend just the Preview, which comprised the second day of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend, or obtain a combination ticket that also allowed access to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which inducted its third class Friday evening.

Junior Johnson signs an autograph during Saturday's Preview. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Beth Neill, a math teacher at East Chapel Hill (N.C.) High School, elected to devote her attention to the
Preview because she didn’t want to miss any of the current drivers and activities. She plans to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame at a later date.

“I really enjoy the Q&As. I actually wish they would be a little bit longer instead of just 15 minutes,” said Neill, a Kasey Kahne fan. “It’s interesting to hear the drivers talk because we never get to hear that. We just watch them race, so to actually hear them talk and answer questions, I like that.”

Saturday’s Preview was a revival of the Winston Cup Preview, which was started by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in 1990 as a charity event to raise money for the Brenner’s Children Hospital and Baptist Hospital’s medical helicopter that serviced three tracks. This year’s Preview wasn’t a charity event, but those familiar with the original one were still excited when it was announced the popular January activity was returning.

“I went one time to the Winston Preview when I was in college, so I was so excited to hear they were doing it again.“,” said Neill, who participated in the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s NASCAR seminar in 2009.

Jane Horne, from Fayetteville, N.C., attended the old Winston Preview four consecutive years before it was discontinued and she was “very excited” when she learned of the 2012 event. She cited the drivers’ availability to the fans as the thing she liked most about the Preview. Horne attended the event with her 29-year-old son whom she described as “mentally handicapped.”

“He loves racing,” she continued. “This is his Christmas present. We went to the induction ceremony last night and we’re staying within walking distance of everything. We’re also attending Sunday’s event in the Hall of Honor.”

A combination driver autograph session and NASCAR trade show, the Preview provided familiar faces as well as a glimpse into the future.

Chrissy Wallace, 23, sat beside her 52-year-old father, Mike, and signed autographs. Last year Chrissy won a track championship and the ASA West Region title, six out of 20 races and placed third in the ASA national series. This year she plans to compete in selected events in NASCAR’s truck and Nationwide series and may return to St. Louis to compete in the ASA series again. Chrissy was 14 when the last Winston Preview was held in 2003.

“I didn’t go to it at that time,” recalled Chrissy, who hopes to compete full time in the Nationwide or truck series in 2013. “At that time, I was still in high school and I was playing AAU tournament softball. I was constantly staying busy, so I didn’t get to go to many things with him [her father].”

Yet, she quickly noted NASCAR needed an event like the Preview because it showed the “morale of this sport and how many people will continue to support this place.”

“As an up-and-coming driver and someone who has been involved in this series all my life with my father racing, to see this many people come out and have a huge turnout like this, it’s really cool,” Chrissy said. “There are four, five rows deep of people standing in line to get our autographs. I’m very excited about it.”

Mike Wallace believes the excitement level is back with the Preview and partnering it with the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction was a good idea. He also believes it’s more accommodating for the fans and the competitors to hold it in Charlotte.

“Anything we can do right now should be located and associated around the Hall of Fame,” the veteran driver said. “It’s the history of the sport, the future of the sport and we’re all tied in right here together.”

Wristbands were required to obtain autographs from the top 12 drivers in the 2011 Sprint Cup standings as well as Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya. More than 40 Cup, Nationwide and truck series drivers were assigned to one of three autograph stations in the main exhibit hall throughout the day.

In the NASCAR Hall of Fame, fans could spend time with the sport’s legends.

Junior Johnson kicked off the festivities at 7 a.m., serving ham and biscuits in the facility’s Great Hall. Throughout the day, fans were able to visit with Ned Jarrett, Richard Petty, Bud Moore, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. The day concluded with an “Evening of Living History”. Bobby and Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough talked about the 1979 Daytona 500, which catapulted the sport into the national spotlight. Darrell Waltrip and former crew chief Jeff Hammond were paired for a discussion as were Jarrett and his former car owner Bondy Long. Johnson and his biographer, veteran motorsports journalist Tom Higgins, were at the moonshine still exhibit, while Glen and Leonard Wood were at the No. 21 Ford. Dale Inman and Moore were near the Inspection exhibit.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, January 22 2012
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