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NASCAR Acceleration a huge hit with fans

January 21, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



NASCAR Acceleration a huge hit with fans
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Autograph seekers camp all night at Hall for chance to meet favorite drivers

Occupy Charlotte? How about Occupy the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

That movement seemed well under way Friday night even as induction ceremonies for the 2012 Hall class were being conducted and were far from concluded. An estimated 75 to 80 people actually camped out in front of the Hall beginning as early as 4 a.m. Friday, to be among the first to participate in Saturday's NASCAR Acceleration event.

The festive day began with Junior Johnson serving breakfast to 300 people in the Great Hall and was set to continue well into the evening. There were guided tours by living Hall of Famers, autograph and question-and-answer sessions with virtually every current driver, and plans to have it capped by an entertaining night of Living History with Hall of Famers and other racing dignitaries reliving memorable events from the past.

After serving breaksfast to 300 people in the Great Hall, Junior Johnson autographs a die-cast car during NASCAR Preview 2012.

But by mid-morning, the event already was judged to have been a smashing success by the large, energetic crowds, some of whom waited in line for long hours to get items signed and/or to ask questions of their favorite drivers, present and past.

"It's very cool. You're getting a chance to interact with the fans," said four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, whose autograph lines appeared to rival those of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the longest at the event. "Especially as avid as these fans are, coming here from all over the country, if not further, and standing all night out on the sidewalk or getting up early to be the first to get in, it's impressive. The weather's not great, either.

"One lady came through and she's crying because of the experience. And you're blown away, when you see and hear that kind of commitment. I mean, you see people with tattoos [to be signed] and everything else. It's incredible and I think this is a great way to kick off the 2012 season."

Among the most passionate Gordon fans to make the trek was Sam Alverson, who stood in the rain and cold temperatures for nearly 27 hours to gain entrance to the Hall -- and ended up waiting closer to 31 hours before he finally got a No. 24 die-cast car signed by his favorite driver.

"We actually got into town Thursday about 5 or 6, but there wasn't anyone dumb enough to get in line yet. So we went back to the hotel and came back and got back in line at 4 o'clock Friday morning," said Alverson, who also was planning to get die-casts autographed by Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick before making the five-hour drive back to Jacksonville, Fla., with two of his friends.

"There were probably 75 or 80 people in line [Friday] night, in the rain. Everybody had their little tarps on or umbrellas. But I was underneath cover, so I was good. I had my die-cast with me and all the other stuff I wanted signed. I had my ski jacket and all my ski stuff with me, and all that good stuff to try to stay dry and warm. I'm feeling a little sick now, but I wasn't going to miss Jeff. I never miss Jeff. He's a great guy."

Buddy Acord and his son James Acord were late comers to the camping party outside the Hall, and said the line wrapped around the side and of the building and part of the way around the block by the time they joined it at 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning. They made the shorter drive from Beckley, W. Va. to get to the Hall, but had heftier gear in tow to be signed.

James Acord was carrying one of the Goodyear racing tires Gordon rode to victory in Phoenix recently. He purchased it earlier from the Hendrick Motorsports gift shop for $50.

"You can get a non-winning race tire he's used for $25. But I wanted one that came from a winning car," he said.

After getting it signed, the younger Acord and his father said their mission for the day was accomplished.

"I have a room in my house dedicated to nothing but Gordon stuff. I call it The Gordon Room. That's where it's headed," James said.

Gordon said he was impressed by the turnout and, as always, by the passion of his many fans. Alverson's story of standing in line so long especially caught his attention.

"That's definitely a lot of dedication," Gordon said. "He's obviously a big fan for doing that. He was telling me that's like his 75th die-cast car that I've signed for him, so obviously he's been around the country and he doesn't mind traveling long distances and waiting long hours, even out in the cold and in the rain. So he's got to be one of my biggest fans."

Another of his most passionate fans was a woman who offered the most unique item for signing on the day: her back.

"Signing the lady's back who took something like 18 months to get all the tattoos that she has that are all basically Jeff Gordon, DuPont, the 24 car, it was pretty incredible," Gordon said. "I thought I had met her before -- but what I had recognized was her back from seeing it on-line. Someone had tweeted and sent a picture of her back to me before. I was surprised I had never met her before, because she also has got to be one of my biggest fans to do all that she's done -- and to go through all the pain and agony that she's gone through to get those tattoos. I guess signing that would definitely be one of the more odd things I've signed."

Alverson, meanwhile, was ready to prominently display his new signed die-cast amongst a collection that now numbers over 2,000 autographed die-casts from various drivers, including 75 by Gordon. He said he couldn't thank Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley and his staff enough for putting on Saturday's event, which was designed to more or less take the place of a NASCAR preview day that used to be held in Winston-Salem, N.C., while piggybacking on the Hall induction ceremony.

"I was real happy when Winston Kelley and all of the folks from the NASCAR Hall of Fame decided to put this back on," Alverson said. "For years and years, me and my family always went up to the NASCAR thing up in Winston-Salem. We went up there and met all the drivers, including [the late] Dale Earnhardt, through the years.

"I was just so pleased when they decided to do this and put it back on. It's just a great event. Real, real good."

Browse photos from NASCAR Preview 2012 below: