BRISTOL — While waiting for their favorite drivers to hit the track Saturday, fans were busy making laps outside Bristol Motor Speedway, trying to take in all the activities available before the start of Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300.
From food to games to merchandise, excited race fans shuffled from trailers to tables, buying up driver apparel, souvenirs and snagging any free items given out.
Food vendors were also busy hours before the start of the race, selling items such as funnel cakes, beer, shaved ice, turkey legs, foot-long hot dogs and fajitas.
A section in front of the track was dedicated to NASCAR’s youngest fans, as huge inflatable slides and obstacle courses were set up for kids to bounce around on, as well as face painting and coloring activities.
Heather McGonagle and her daughter, Kristen Alderman, were wandering among the vendors Saturday, hoping to spot some new items from past race years.
“We’ve just come from the Bruton Smith Building and ... bought some shirts and stuff,” McGonagle said. “We like to go around to all the trailers and see the different merchandise every year.”
She said she’s been coming to the Bristol race for more than 30 years and said they also camp out for the races.
“You make new friends and stuff and there’s a lot that come back and camp beside you,” McGonagle said.
As many popular driver names and numbers were visible around the track Saturday, the number 3 for former NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt was still being worn by his most loyal fans.
One of those fans included Bob Adcock, of Lenoir City, who said he tracked down his black Dale Earnhardt jacket after seeing it two years ago at a Bristol race.
Adcock said when he came back for it at one of the following races, the jacket wasn’t there and he feared it had been sold, but really the jet black jacket was being toted all around the country.
Adcock said he finally found the vendor, was able to purchase the jacket at the same price he had originally seen it advertised in Bristol and had it FedEx’d to his home.
“Not another driver like him (Earnhardt),” he said. “Every time I can find something I don’t have, I try to buy it. He was a legend. He did as much for ... NASCAR racing as any driver.”
Fundraising for Kingsport’s Senior Citizen Athletic Club, Catherine Crooke said her booth full of BMS and St. Patrick’s Day race shirts and memorabilia had been pretty busy Saturday.
“The event shirts are going well,” she said. “We’re selling shirts ... pens, cushions, caps, key chains ... just about anything you could want.”
She said the merchandise part of the overall experience seemed to be pretty popular and said, “We enjoy this. We do it every year ... twice a year.”
About 1,000 miles away from home, Terry Foley and his son, Joshua, made the long trek to the track from Ottawa.
“I’m specifically here for my son who’s a huge Kyle Busch fan, so ... we’re taking in all the merchandise trailers right now and we just came down from the Bruton Smith Building,” he said. “We were here yesterday for the (Ford Fan Friday) and ... we bought lots yesterday and we’re here again today doing some more.”
Foley said so far the pair had racked up new baseball hats, T-shirts, a stuffed puppy with a Kyle Busch T-shirt on, a stuffed red M&M and a keychain.
“The atmosphere is fantastic. He (Joshua) spent yesterday in the bouncy castles and everything, so it was well worth the 1,000-mile drive,” he said. “You wouldn’t take in qualifying and practice and those types of things if you never had ... the extras that went with it.”
Today’s Food City 500 starts at 1 p.m. and can be viewed on Fox.