The crowd gathered at Evans Towne Center Park Saturday was revved up to see Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hundreds of people flocked to the Lady Antebellum Pavilion awaiting Earnhardt’s appearance, which showcased TaxSlayer’s sponsorship of his JR Motorsports’ NASCAR racers. TaxSlayer’s new five-story building is under construction in Marshall Square across the street.
Standing near the 37-year-old driver’s TaxSlayer race car were Thomson residents Craig and Gloria Butler. The couple had shown up an hour and a half in advance to catch the first glimpse of Earnhardt, voted nine times by fans as their favorite.
“It’s awesome,” said Gloria Butler, who was wearing a black jacket embroidered with Earnhardt’s name. “He is my driver.”
While fans already had their motors running, Earnhardt’s took a few minutes to warm up.
Once the red Chevrolet race car finally started, Earnhardt drove and parked it in front of the pavilion, where he answered several questions submitted by fans.
“Man, I’m glad that car started,” he said after walking on stage.
Not surprisingly, most of the questions Earnhardt answered centered around NASCAR.
One of the questions asked if there were any drivers that Earnhardt didn’t get along with.
“I do keep a list of guys that I haven’t gotten along with,” he said. “Some of them, I didn’t get the chance to get back. They’ve already retired.”
Earnhardt admitted that while he’s not shy about trading paint with other cars on the track, he wouldn’t intentionally cause a wreck.
When not talking about racing, Earnhardt told the audience that in his spare time, he likes to fish and bow hunt.
Answering a question about which college football team he roots for, Earnhardt’s response — the South Carolina Gamecocks — brought a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd.
Looking back at earlier points in his career, Earnhardt said he often wishes he could take what he knows now and use it on past races.
“I feel like I could do it forever,” he said of racing, “probably longer than I should.”
Before leaving in a white limo escorted by Columbia County sheriff’s deputies, Earnhardt thanked those who attended for their support. He also signed autographs for a select number of people wearing wristbands, given out days before the event.
Amy Burgess, of Augusta, was first in line to meet Earnhardt.
After getting an Earnhardt portrait autographed by him for her son and having a picture taken, Burgess described the experience as “heart-stopping.”
“When I say I’m his number one fan, that’s me putting it loosely,” she said.