The 50-year-old fan was standing among about 100 people outside Junior’s souvenir trailers Sunday after adding key chains and a hat to what he called an “extreme” collection.
“I’ve got six or eight leather coats that I bought and just hang on the wall. I’ll buy anything that has Jr. on it — toilet paper, Kleenex,” Kilbride said. “When he goes to Hendrick‘s, I’ll keep buying more of his stuff. It doesn’t matter who he’s driving with.”
Souvenir trailers throughout the Irish Hills, located about 75 miles west of Detroit, paid tribute to the fan base known as the “Red Army,” sporting Junior’s name, number or beer of choice on bandanas, hats, T-shirts, jerseys, bikinis, sunglasses and headphones. Junior-related merchandise accounts for about 30 percent of NASCAR’s sales.
Earnhardt makes an estimated $20 million annually, half of which is believed to come from merchandise sales.
When Earnhardt announced May 10 he was leaving DEI, he worried about how his loyal followers would react. He didn’t have to fret long. Sales of Earnhardt merchandise at race tracks are up 17 percent since his May 10 announcement, industry analysts said. At NASCAR.com, where his figures spiked 107 percent the first week, sales have now leveled off but are still slightly above last season’s pace.
Junior said he has been surprised by the support.
“You didn’t really know what their reaction was going to be, but they’ve always been supportive in the past,” he said. “Certainly, this is a little bit bigger deal than anything else I’ve ever done, and they continue to be supportive.”
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