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Fueling the fire

NASCAR driver Patrick Carpentier stops to sign autographs Wednesday night with fans Lydia Fronek and Andrew Boukal of Joliet during the Race Fan Rally in downtown Joliet. (Herald Photo by Heidi Terry-Litchfield)
NASCAR driver Patrick Carpentier stops to sign autographs Wednesday night with fans Lydia Fronek and Andrew Boukal of Joliet during the Race Fan Rally in downtown Joliet. (Herald Photo by Heidi Terry-Litchfield)

JOLIET - Lydia Fronek and Andrew Boukal stood clutching their NASCAR memorabilia as they waited for rookie driver Patrick Carpenteir to turn around and autograph it. “We are huge NASCAR fans,” said Fronek. “We will be out at the race track this weekend.” For Boukal, a diehard Jeff Gordon fan, it didn't matter that it wasn't his favorite driver that just signed his hat. He was excited to be near anything NASCAR. “I've only been to one race before,” said Boukal. “It wasn't NASCAR, so I'm excited and I hope Gordon wins.” NASCAR fans from all over the United States were on hand in downtown Joliet Wednesday night as the 8th annual Race Fan Rally got underway, providing a chance for fans of all ages to celebrate NASCAR. Joliet's rally is the second largest fan event for NASCAR, according to Kevin Hegarty, coordinator with the City of Joliet. It's second only to Charlotte, N.C. The rally featured live entertainment in two locations, with the Chicago Twang band “Hello Dave” playing on the main fan stage when the first NASCAR driver showed up to the event. Aric Almirola, the rookie driver for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., was on hand to answer questions about his switch from part-time driver to full-time before heading over to sign autographs for the long line of fans waiting to meet him. Will Kibler and Mitchell Krippel were first in line for autographs and got a chance to pose for a quick photograph with Almirola. As fans strolled in either direction from the main stage, across from the Rialto Square Theater, they were treated to a host of race cars from go karts to NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s cup car was on display where fans were treated to a free photo with it after completing some push ups for the National Guard, which sponsors his car. “I got to have my photo taken with Jr.'s car,” said an excited 8-year-old named Amanda. “He's my favorite. He's so cute.” Whether it's their good looks or their presence on the track that excites fans, there was something for everyone at fan fest. Others took the opportunity to give back by having their hair cut for a cause. Great Clips, the sponsor for Kasey Kahne's cup car, had hair stylists on hand giving hair cuts for a donation to the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana Ronald McDonald House Charities. For the diehard Kahne fans, a “green screen” was set up allowing them to pose in front of a blank screen while Kahne was added to their picture via computer. “I love Kasey,” squealed Cindy Fronk. “I can't believe I have a picture of me with him. I mean it would be better if he were here, but he's in the picture, with me.” The Race Rally is just the kick off to four days of NASCAR fun with the Chicagoland Speedway hosting the Dollar General 300 and the LifeLock.com 400 this weekend. This year's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the LifeLock.com 400, will be held on Saturday night that will for the first time bring night racing to Joliet.

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