For Gary Smith, meeting NASCAR legends Bobby and Donnie Allison – and having them sign some vintage memorabilia – was a major highlight of the Dec. 9 Stocks for Tots fundraiser at the NASCAR Technical Institute.
The event was created 25 years ago as a way to bring together stock-car racing and its fans while helping Iredell County-based Stop Child Abuse Now in an effort to help prevent and treat child abuse and neglect.
Don Miller, an event founder, said the annual partnership with the Mooresville-based North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame and SCAN has raised nearly $1 million and collected more than 50,000 toys for children in need.
Miller, the former president of Penske Racing, said they’re looking to raise at least $25,000 and hundreds of toys this year. Those who attended had to make a cash donation of $10 and donate a new, unwrapped toy valued at $10. Proceeds help abused children of Iredell County.
“This is about the kids,” Miller said. “It’s about giving the kids a Christmas they might not otherwise have.”
Hundreds of people attend the event each year, Miller said. They get to spend four hours meeting famous drivers, gathering autographs and bidding on racing memorabilia, such as autographed sheet metal, driver uniforms and wheels, in a a silent auction.
Drivers on hand included Bobby and Donnie Allison, Dale Jarrett, Harry Gant, Ryan Newman and numerous other past and present stars of NASCAR. Also on hand was the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” Shirley Muldowney, NASCAR Hall-of-Famers Leonard Wood and Rex White, drag racers and NASCAR TV personalities.
Smith, from Athens, Ga., has attended the event for the last four years. He had the Allison brothers sign some cards for him.
“I’ve followed Bobby since I was a little-bitty kid,” Smith said. “He was one of my favorite drivers when he drove the No. 1 car.
“When my dad used to take me to the races, when I was 7 or 8 years old, we’d cook out in the infield and stay all weekend. I sat in Richard Petty’s pit and just played with the kids. So, for them to come up and do this every year for the fans is just amazing.”
John Dodson, the vice president of NASCAR, said anytime the Allison brothers appear together, it’s always a highlight.
“They’re sitting side-by-side and … next to them is Rex White, the oldest living NASCAR champion, so just right here within 10 feet of us is two hall-of-famers,” Dodson said. “There’s a thousand-plus people here each year, and no one’s ever left without an autograph.”
Bobby has attended the event almost every year since it started in 1989.
“This is one of the best programs we do all year long,” he said. “Just look around at all the people who support this great cause. We watch the people come through, they get autographs, talk about old times and new times. It’s just a great deal.”