It’s not every day that NASCAR fans get to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport’s most popular driver. It’s even rarer that they have the opportunity to hang with him at a 7-Eleven.
But that’s exactly what happened on Thursday in Charlotte, N.C., where Junior made a 2-hour appearance at the well-known convenience store to help promote AMP Energy’s newest limited-time flavor, Dale Jr. Sour.
With a couple hundred guests — many of them clad in No. 88 attire — congregated beside the store, Earnhardt Jr. handed out cans of his sponsor’s special product to everyone in attendance, with many fans stopping for a quick photo with their hero. Earnhardt Jr. later participated in a Q&A, fielding questions on topics ranging from whether he would like to see more short tracks in NASCAR, to whether he aspires to ever race overseas.
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Good appearance with @7eleven and @AMPEnergy today. Got to meet lots of supporters of the 88 team. Thanks for coming out!
"The interaction with the fans in the last few months since the Daytona 500 has been a blast because they were so excited about that win,” Earnhardt Jr. said. "So everywhere we go, you’re hearing about that. And since we joined Twitter, that’s a new avenue to speak with your fans and discuss things and share things, and so that experience has been a lot of fun. …
"I’m more nervous about doing appearances near my home than away. When we’re away, we’re normally in a race market where fans come for the race and they’re there to see you or see the other drivers. It’s real challenging in your own home market because it’s not a big deal because they know the drivers all live around here and when they run into you at the supermarket, they’re like, ‘Hey, man. Good job.’ Or they might not even say nothing. So it’s a different challenge, but I enjoy it."
Organizers of Thursday’s outdoor event waited until the morning to reveal the location of the 7-Eleven where Earnhardt would be, but the short notice wasn’t evident from the number of cars in the parking lot and the crowd on hand.
David and Joshua Williams — a father and son from Coalwood, W.Va. — were in the car heading to Darlington Raceway for this weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race when they heard on the John Boy and Billy Radio Show that their favorite driver was coming to a 7-Eleven en route.
How surprised were they by the news?
"’Bout wrecked," said David, who became a fan of Dale Jr.’s father, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., in 1976.
"I about went in the grass like he did the other day," he added, referring to Junior’s off-track excursion in Monday’s rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Thursday’s sponsor event was the first time that the father and son had met Earnhardt Jr., and they arrived at the 7-Eleven about two hours before he was scheduled to appear.
"It was incredible," said Joshua, a 33-year-old who has supported Junior since his rookie Sprint Cup season of 2000.
"He’s a real cool guy, nice and down to earth. I shook his hand."
The elder Williams was equally thrilled.
"It’s a dream come true," he said. "I’ve been waiting my whole life. I met his dad at Bristol. I’ve been wanting to meet him.
"I went to Daytona this year and saw him win. I about passed out, then. Shaking his hand was unbelievable."
Earnhardt Jr., who in 2013 was named NASCAR’s most popular driver for a record 11th consecutive year, says he enjoys events where he can interact with his fans.
"We’ve had a pretty good year and they’re excited about our performance and how we’re running," he said. "We’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the series, and the fans are really enjoying that, being able to watch the races and have something to get excited about."