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Earnhardt's biggest fan?

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Local banker's trip to Bristol leaves no doubt

By John Herndon

There are fans and then there is Kim Carpenter.

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An assistant vice-president at Century Bank, Carpenter took up an friend's invitation to go to Bristol Motor Speedway and came home with the distinction of being the number one fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Carpenter and Debbie Henderson went to the Tennessee track on Aug. 21 for the Food City 250. While there she came upon the chance to burnout in Earnhardt's car. The popular driver was not going to run until the next day in the Sharpie 500.

Determined to get in the car of her favorite driver, Carpenter, wearing an Earnhardt National Guard shirt, approached the crew, but was told she had the wrong attire. She needed an AMP shirt, she was told.

No problem. “I just went right down there and bought one,” she said.

Carpenter was able to get in the car and did a rambunctious burnout in Earnhardt's No. 88. A week later she was still sporting a small bruise on her right arm. “I got that in Dale's car,” she proudly says.

Those in charge noticed.

“One of the guys in the crew came to the car and said, 'You have got to be Dale, Jr.'s No. 1 fan! We want you to come back for when Dale will be here and we want you to get on stage with Dale.”

At that point, Carpenter says, she was almost overcome.

“My hand was shaking,” she says. “I had a can in my hand. They took the can from me. This was so unbelievable and it was like a dream come true.”

Carpenter, a Boyle County native that has lived in Anderson County for about 10 years, had about three hours to compose herself before meeting Earnhardt.

“I got on the stage and he just asked me how I was doing. I wasn't nervous,” she says. “I got a hug from him, the he took his cap off and gave it to me.”

A long time fan of the track, Carpenter says Earnhardt's father, Dale, was her favorite driver before his death in the 2001 Daytona 500. When The Intimidator's son burst on the scene, Carpenter says, “I paid attention to him.”

But Little did Carpenter know that she would get to meet Dale, Jr. or share a stage with him as his top fan.

After telling Carpenter that she had been selected to be on stage, a member of Earnhardt's entourage asked her if she could handle it.

“I took a deep breath and said, 'Yes, I can.'”

In the time between the burnout and going on stage with her hero, Carpenter called Melissa Lenguadoro at the bank to share the news. “I drove 'em crazy,” Carpenter says with a huge laugh.

When the moment to join Dale, Jr. on stage arrived, Carpenter admits some doubt. “I was wondering, 'Is this really happening to me?' It was unbelievable.”

Carpenter says she had met NASCAR driver Robby Gordon several years ago but it was nothing like what happened on Aug. 21.

“I just love Dale. I have a lifesize sticker of Dale on my kitchen wall,” she says. That is believable since her bank office contains a good amount of Dale, Jr. memorabilia, including a life-size cut out.

Carpenter was asked if she really was Dale's top fan. She appeared surprised by the question.

“Yeah! Of course I am!”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.