Knoxville drivers Trevor Bayne, Chad Finchum have grown up at Race NightThe Knoxville News-Sentinel — Dan Fleser The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
April 21--Trevor Bayne remembers coming to Food City Race Night and looking up to NASCAR drivers, literally looking up to the them.
He was 7 years old, maybe 8. He'd pack up his go-kart and head over, journeying from elementary school to the big time. What a trip it was.
"We'd set a couple of trophies on the table, act like we'd done something already," Bayne said.
The 26-year-old Knoxville driver has done plenty since then. In 2011, he became the youngest driver to win the Daytona 500. He competes full-time for Roush Fenway on the Monster Energy NASCAR series and will drive in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bayne was back at the Knoxville Expo Center Thursday night, returning to an event that continues to remind him of how far he's come.
"This is one of the few events I do every year," he said. "I think it's because I started doing it when I was young. It's fun to see people who bring up pictures when I was 10 years old and I had highlights in my hair, sitting there with a go-kart.
"I was here looking up to all the NASCAR drivers, looking and seeing all those names on the boards. It's weird that I got to be one of those guys now."
Chad Finchum can relate to the front end of Bayne's narrative. The Knoxville driver was here at roughly the same age as Bayne with his go-kart, wide-eyed at the wonder of it all.
"I was trying to take it all in," he said. "Man, I'm 7 years-old and I'm signing autographs. ... You know (I'm) bashful, whatever. But I could always talk about racing."
Such conversation courses through this event, which resembles both a car show and a county fair. The event is celebrating its 30-year anniversary, having long outgrown the Food City in Kingsport where it began.
"It got to the point where our customers couldn't shop," said Lisa Johnson, Food City's special events manager. "So we had to find a bigger venue."
Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace came to sign autographs and field questions about his Bristol history.
"I've won nine races in Bristol," he said. "It's like my home track, it almost feels like. They'll always talk about my past victories and the short-track upbringing I had."
Finchum, 22, will rejoin Martin-McClure Racing this weekend for the Zombie Motors K&N Pro Series race in Bristol. He won the event last year, which blew up his Facebook account and his phone.
"I had a dead battery on my phone for about two weeks straight, just commenting back to people," he said.
Finchum, who has a Late Model racing background, continues to marvel at what that victory has done for his profile. It gave him a lot more to talk about at Race Night.
"I could win 20 Late Model races in a row," he said, "but that one win gained a lot of fans and put my face in front of NASCAR."
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