Racing legends slow down to talk to fans

NASCAR Hall of Famers sign autographs and even break bread with public

Saturday, Jan. 21, 2012

When he was a kid growing up in Wilkes County, Junior Johnson liked to eat sausage biscuits for breakfast.

The racing legend served a similar morning meal to more than 300 fans at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Saturday as part of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend.

"You can work a full, hard day when you eat that kind of breakfast," said Johnson, 81, surrounded by vintage cars and baskets of biscuits in the Great Hall.

"It's a farmer's breakfast," he said.

Johnson also brought along pastries with his picture on the package, made by a company he co-owns in Winston-Salem.

Racing fan Sandy Ammons, 54, of New Bern and her 9-year-old grandson, Austin Banks, stood in line for Johnson's autograph.

"I can't believe it," Ammons said. "We got to have breakfast with Junior today."

Acceleration Weekend, which ends today, was designed to let NASCAR fans meet drivers, get an up-close look at cars and gear up for this year's racing season.

Jonathan Kisch is such a big race fan that he stood in line outside the Charlotte Convention Center from 3:15 to 7 a.m. Saturday - in the rain - to pick up wrist bands for admission to driver autograph sessions.

"When I got here I was about 150th in line," said Kisch, 32, who lives in Charlotte.

By 12:30 p.m. he already had nine signatures, including one from his favorite driver, Jeff Gordon. It was easy to spot Kisch among the hundreds of fans crowding the convention center exhibit hall. He was the one carrying a large red gas can signed by more than 50 NASCAR personalities.

Kisch bought the can, which was once used by Terry Labonte's crew, from a racing website about seven years ago.

Since then, he's carried it to any event where he thinks there will be drivers to sign it.

Standing in front of Tony Stewart's car, 4-year-old Brayden Mayberry of Calabash, posed for pictures with his mother, Sarah.

Coming to Acceleration Weekend was Brayden's birthday present, said Sarah Mayberry, 28.

"His world revolves around cars and race tracks," she said. "I don't think he's ever without a Hot Wheel."

Kelly Griffin, 34, of Asheville was also looking at Stewart's car and showing off tattoos on her left wrist celebrating him as her favorite driver.

"I've been a fan for 10 years, and this is the first time I'll get to meet him," Griffin said. "I'm so excited I feel like I'm in a dream."