MOORESVILLE, N.C. ? It started out as a car show held in the local armory, a way to collect toys for abused children and perhaps raise a little money for their cause.
Now, 25 years later, the annual Stocks For Tots event has grown into an incredibly popular affair, drawing fans from several states and featuring numerous drivers from several different racing arenas.
"Each year it just grew and grew," Don Miller, the former Penske Racing official who helped guide the careers of Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman, said Dec. 10 as fans filed in and out of the autograph area inside the NASCAR Technical Institute. "We started right here in Mooresville (in 1989) ? so far we've raised about $1 million in cash and collected more than 100,000 toys for children."
The gift shop saw a steady stream of customers wandering through, eyeing everything from race team crew shirts and race tires to books and posters.
Items up for bid in the silent auction lined the hallway ? a 20-piece Dale Earnhardt train set, various pieces of sheet metal, and autographed shirts and hats among the many items up for grabs.
It all had the feel of a pit stop, that organized chaos that looks all askew until it's completed and you realize how perfectly everything came together.
Fans packed the halls, some sporting the most recent colors of their favorite drivers, others still wearing those more popular in years past. A Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 hoodie here, a Kurt Busch 2004 championship jacket there. Sweatshirts emblazoned with the Miller Lite logo, jackets touting Ford Quality Care and Pennzoil. T-shirts featuring dirt racers, drag racers and favorite race tracks.
Volunteers appeared around every corner to provide information and assistance.
But it's the autographs that provide the big draw, those brief opportunities to connect with a favorite driver or legend in the sport.
Stocks For Tots doesn't lack for star power - seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the fan favorite, were just two of dozens that turned out for the event.
Earnhardt Jr. and the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Foundation even made a generous donation of $5,000 to Iredell SCAN - Stop Child Abuse Now.
"It's not just the NASCAR guys," Miller said. "It's drag racers, road racers, dirt racers; it's just been amazing. And each year we try to get a couple of guys from each of those segments of motorsports ? and of course the legends, 40 or 50 former champions from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, all over the place."
Not everyone comes just for the autographs ? "A lot of people come here just to support the event; they'll come here pay the $10 and don't even get an autograph," he said. "Maybe go to the silent auction ? so it really serves a lot of different purposes.
"There was a guy who came in here today from New York and brought a small truckload of toys. Another guy came from Kentucky and brought like 300 toys; a man from Pennsylvania and his daughter brought a couple of hundred toys. It's unbelievable what people do."
Funds raised through the event benefit Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN), a local non-profit organization.
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