One fan asked Trevor Bayne if he was married. Another wanted to know what his favorite Bible verse is. The Daytona 500 winner grinned as he answered each question and remarked how good it was to be home.
Bayne returned to Knoxville on Monday for the first time since winning the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20 for a rally sponsored by the city and Bristol Motor Speedway.
"It still hasn't hit me all the way yet," the 20-year-old said of his victory. "This is the first day that I've had a couple of hours just to kind of take it in. This is the first time I've been home. I haven't gotten to go back and watch it yet. I think the first time I get to watch the whole race through and see everything that happened, that's when it's going to sink in a little bit more."
He said he's been wearing his championship ring on his finger every night so that when he wakes up the next morning he'll know his victory wasn't a dream. And for the record, no, he's not married and his favorite Bible verse currently is Ecclesiastes 7:14, one that reminds Bayne that good times and bad times are part of God's plan.
Bayne's Daytona 500 victory made him the youngest winner of the race in history, coming a day after his 20th birthday and in just his second start in NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup Series. His good times at Daytona were quickly followed up by a frustrating weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, where he crashed both during qualifying and in Sunday's race.
"Trevor is such a talent," said Len Wood, of Woods Brothers Racing. "He's got it going on in every direction. Well, maybe not at Phoenix yet. We struggled out there, but yeah, we'll work on it."
A few hundred fans turned out for the Knoxville rally, which was relocated last week from the city's Market Square to the much larger Civic Coliseum after a big response from fans. The crowd turned out to be much smaller than expected after severe storms moved through Knoxville on Monday afternoon.
The fans who braved the weather didn't seem to mind Bayne's 31st place finish at Phoenix and instead were more interested in seeing the hometown racing hero with the strong faith.
"He inspires a lot of kids with his faith," said Knoxville resident Mike Lewis, 50. "I enjoy watching him talk, because I know it's coming from the heart. Despite his success, he's very humble right now."
City of Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown honored Bayne by declaring the day "Trevor Bayne Day" and giving the racer his own city street sign with the words "Trevor Bayne Lane" on it. Officials with Bristol Motor Speedway, his home track located 100 miles away from Knoxville, gave Bayne a new skateboard with a Bristol logo on it, and former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Condredge Holloway gave him an orange football jersey with his name and his car's No. 21 on it.
"To me the Daytona 500 was always a big deal, but I was a NASCAR fan growing up," Bayne said. "I didn't realize how big of a deal it was to everybody else in the United States."
After speaking briefly to the crowd, Bayne did a lap of interviews with Knoxville's local TV sports anchors and radio show hosts before signing autographs. "One more show and then I'm back for good, I promise!" he shouted at a pack of fans while being escorted by a publicist.
That attitude has captivated 9-year-old fan David Arnold, whose mom, Wendi Arnold, checked him out of school early so he could attend the rally.
"He's a nice guy," David said. "It's really good to see someone with a good attitude win."