As Brennan Newberry waits in the driver's lounge at NASCAR Preview '13, he chats with good friend and fellow Trucks Series driver Ross Chastain and his little brother. The conversation pauses every now and then for Newberry to shake a hand and say hello to a familiar face.
Growing up in Bakersfield, Calif., Newberry admired and aspired to be like local drivers Kevin Harvick and Rick Mears. He remembers waiting in line for autographs himself. Now, he'll have races against Harvick and he's the one people are waiting in line to meet.
"I stood in line for Kevin Harvick before," Newberry recalled. "And so, to be there before, and just to progress to where I am now, that's really cool. That's something I never want to forget."
Part of NASCAR Acceleration Weekend, the preview event gives fans the opportunity to meet drivers and ask them questions at Q&A sessions. As Newberry looks around at the people bustling through the Charlotte Convention Center, he wears a mixed expression of awe and excitement.
"It's kind of humbling to me," he said. "? All these people are here not only to see me, but also to see all the other drivers, it just shows what kind of fan following we have. It shows that these are dedicated fans."
To Newberry, 23, a big part of that dedication comes from the relationship between drivers and fans. This is something he learned from experience, when, as a 12-year-old, he went up to Kasey Kahne in Las Vegas and started talking to him. To his surprise, it was just a regular conversation.
"From that point on, I'm like, 'You know what? These guys are just like me,' " Newberry said.
Mark Jackson, who waited in line with his son Matthew, 13, to meet Jeff Gordon, found their favorite driver easy to talk to.
"He's very friendly," Mark said of Gordon. "I told him that last year we came and his session was sold out, told him that I remember when he won the 1997 Southern 500."
"I've been waiting for this ever since the past summer," Matthew said. "I wanted to meet (Jeff Gordon)."
A driver that Newberry has also waited in line for. And he hopes to inspire fans just as Gordon, Harvick and Kahne inspired him.
"I'm sure kids I meet today are going to be in my shoes 10 years from now -- I hope they are," he said.
Kids like Colton McLean, who hopes to be in a pit crew one day and got his garage box -- a shoebox cut to look like a garage -- signed by Kyle Busch. Or Ethan Edwards, who came to the NASCAR Preview to see his hero, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and hopes to be a driver someday himself.
"He's met (Dale Jr.) before and he was real friendly to him, and signed everything and talked to him for a little bit," Ethan's mom, Amy Edwards, said. Ethan, 11, received a go-kart for Christmas.
As kids and adults alike pass through the autograph line, Newberry wears a smile just as big as those he hands an autograph. Maybe because it's his birthday, or maybe because he just enjoys meeting fans.
"Besides the race, besides being able to do that and besides enjoy my passion, the biggest thing that I like is actually getting to know my fans," he said. "The autograph sessions are probably the most relaxing time for me."
He certainly got a lot of relaxation, then, after signing his name for an seemingly endless line of fans, standing in front of his chair the entire time. The fact that Harvick signed autographs for the same crowd in the same location just hours before was an added bonus.
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