Fan-Tastic: NASCAR Preview Ups Anticipation For 2012 Season

For one day at least, Sam Alverson of Jacksonville, Fla., could lay claim to being NASCAR’s No. 1 fan. It wasn’t just because of his devotion to the sport; it’s because he was first in line.

After a marathon 26-hour campout session, Alverson was the first of thousands of fans through the doors Saturday for the inaugural NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented by Sprint at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and Charlotte Convention Center. The fan-friendly event, part of NASCAR’s Acceleration Weekend, followed an overflow crowd for Friday evening’s NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony of Richie Evans, Dale Inman, Darrell Waltrip, Glen Wood and Cale Yarborough.

Many fans were in line the day before the event, forming a human chain that went halfway around the convention center and weathered cool, drizzly conditions. For Alverson, the reward of a 5 1/2-hour drive and extensive wait in the elements was a chance to greet his favorite driver, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

When Gordon jokingly questioned his motives for spending more than a day in line to meet him, Alverson shot back, “It’s because you are the champ!”

“We have the most amazing fans,” Gordon said. “It blows you away any time you hear something like that. … All the fans that came out, some of them traveled long distances, get up early in the morning or stayed up late at night on the sidewalk. That’s pretty amazing, and that’s what makes events like this so successful.”

Gordon also entertained fans during a question and answer session with Richard Petty, unveiling a new paint scheme commemorating 20 years in the sport with longtime sponsor DuPont. More than 60 drivers were on hand to sign autographs and greet fans, with several participating in fan Q&As. Additionally, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees new and old led fans on personal guided tours of the Hall’s exhibits.

“We’re thrilled with the turnout and the passion our fans continue to express,” said Steve Sweeney, NASCAR’s director of consumer marketing. “The NASCAR Preview 2012 Presented By Sprint offered a perfect lead-in for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26 [on FOX, MRN Radio], and will only grow in the upcoming years.”

Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said the NASCAR Preview event was a direct result of listening to fans – including Alverson – clamoring for more of the sport during the offseason and a revival of the preview held in Winston-Salem, N.C., years ago.

“It’s met or exceeded all the expectations we had, and we think this is the foundation we can just grow on,” Kelley said. “This is just the start to us, and I think we can make it even bigger and better.”

Two pieces of news came out of today’s event, as Sprint unveiled its Miss Sprint Cup lineup for 2012, and American Ethanol announced sponsorship for two highly visible race teams.

Kristen Beat, a former on-air talent for Fuel TV, joins returning Miss Sprint Cup members Kim Coon and Jaclyn Roney for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

Additionally, American Ethanol announced that it will continue relationships with Richard Childress Racing and RAB racing for the 2012 season. Austin Dillon, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, will drive the No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet for six races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as one race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2012. Dillon’s No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet paint scheme was unveiled at the event. American Ethanol will also partner with Kenny Wallace and RAB Racing for the Daytona 500 on FOX, as well as five races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.

NASCAR Acceleration Weekend culminates Sunday morning with more events at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. This year’s class of inductees will see their exhibits and spires in the Hall of Fame for the first time and will unveil their engraved granite markers in the Walk of Fame Garden outside the Hall’s doors.