MYRTLE BEACH Some fans had arrived as early as 2 a.m. Wednesday to make sure they had a place in line for NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne’s appearance at the new Ollie’s Bargain Outlet in Carolina Forest. They wore Kasey Kahne shirts, talked about his chances in the Chase for the Cup and about racing in general.
And just as Ollie’s executives had hoped, they helped fill the store for its grand opening.
“It’s great because it gives us instant notoriety in the community,” Ollie’s president and CEO Mark Butler said, watching shoppers and racing fans alike mill around the store. “It gives the fans a chance to interact with a NASCAR superstar, and besides that, he’s a really good guy and a really good person. And everybody has a good time. ... I mean, this place is packed.”
Near the middle of the store, next to the small roped off section where Kahne would appear at 10 a.m. to sign autographs and take pictures, young fans Kylie Neverett and Brooke Cecile waited with the first tickets in line. They had arrived at 4 a.m., and Neverett had Kahne’s name written on her hand.
“I’ve followed him since 2004,” she said.
“He’s like the best NASCAR racer ever,” Cecile quickly added.
Timmy Cothran, Angel Swann and their group had actually been in the parking lot since 2 a.m., making sure they didn’t miss the opportunity.
“Nobody was here. We were like the first people here, other than the workers” said Swann, who admitted she didn’t really know much about Kahne.
But Cothran did. Like many of the fans who showed up Wednesday morning, he was a self-admitted NASCAR die-hard and sported his loyalties with a Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 hat while saying he rooted for all the Hendrick Motorsports drivers -- including Kahne.
“I used to follow them from Atlanta to Darlington to Charlotte,” Cothran said. “I stay in the infield each one. I love NASCAR. I live and breathe NASCAR. I’ve got different driver’s autographs, but I’ve never got Kasey Kahne’s.”
Kahne, who drives the No. 5 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was taking a break in what is surely a busy schedule this time of year. One of 12 drivers in the Chase, he sits fifth in the standings through two of 10 races and trails leader Jimmie Johnson by 15 points as he prepares for the race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.
He had other obligations later in the day in Charlotte and would be off to Dover, Del., by Thursday, but this store appearance in Myrtle Beach had been on the calendar for quite some time and so Wednesday morning he arrived through the back of the store and grabbed a seat behind a small table with a stack of pictures to be signed.
“I’ve done a lot with Ollie’s Bargain Outlet, some of the grand openings, Mark Butler does a great job with his stores and we have a good relationship,” Kahne said. “... It’s pretty easy to get away and do this. The Chase is [going on] right now, and things are pretty exciting. We’ve got a lot going on, but I can still get down here to Myrtle and open a new Ollie’s and I’m glad to be here.”
Ollie’s has been a sponsor of Kahne’s since 2004 and the driver has probably made 30-40 of these store appearances over the years, Butler said. This one just happens to come in the middle of NASCAR’s championship season, and so before he met with fans, Kahne talked about the next race.
Coming off a fifth-place finish at Loudon, Kahne is one of four Hendrick drivers in the Chase along with Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt.
“We all work together. It’s just kind of part of the way that Rick wants it done,” Kahne said. “So we’re all great teammates, work really well together -- the crew chiefs, the engineers, the drivers. And then as far as on the race track, it’s all for yourself.”
He acknowledged his toughest challenge this week will likely come from Johnson, the Chase leader and five-time Sprint Cup champion.
“I feel like I’m capable of getting up there,” Kahne said. “We’ve never been in that position, though. We’ve never went down to the wire racing for a Cup and had that pressure and everything that comes along with it. Until you have that, it’s hard to say if you can do it or not, but I would think that we could if we got in that position.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.