It was a day for tears, for laughter, for re-connecting with old friends, for great deals and for awesome prizes.

But most of all, it was a day for making memories that will last a lifetime.

On Saturday May 21, nearly 500 of the most ardent die-cast collectors converged on the headquarters of Lionel Racing in Concord, N.C., for the 2016 RCCA Member Appreciation Event.

Every member had their own reason for being there. Some had driven long distances (more than eight hours in some cases) to take advantage of the great deals to be had in the temporary retail store set up in the warehouse. Others had come from near and far to meet the NASCAR legend Junior Johnson and hear him talk and possibly get his autograph.

However, for many, the highlight of the event was the chance to see and hear NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Members who purchased VIP passes got the opportunity to meet Dale. and have their photo taken with him while getting one item autographed.

The brief encounter left several members speechless. Some members were in awe, while a few shed a tear and one member even got to give the driver a peck on the cheek.

Although meeting Dale was probably the highlight of the event for the members with VIP passes, there were plenty of other reasons the event was a memorable time for all.

“This year’s RCCA event was a great time for all, including the Lionel Racing staff. It was a special day celebrating RCCA’s 25th Anniversary with the sports’ most dedicated and passionate fans,” said Meredith Burris, Lionel Racing’s Online and Club Manager. “We have such an appreciation for our collectors and we love having the opportunity to thank them for their continued support. This year’s event topped the leader board for sure and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store!”

The doors opened at 8:30 a.m. for members with the top-level VIP passes and at 9 a.m. for everyone else. At the registration tables, each member received a goody bag that included among other things a 1:24-scale die-cast car and a code for $20 off at the online store.

The 1:24-scale die-cast that members with the top-level VIP passes received were chrome die-cast commemorating RCCA’s 25th Anniversary and featured the anniversary logo on the hood.

With the on-site retail store open, many members quickly checked the contents of their goody bags and made their way to the store to see what die-cast and deals they could find. It didn’t take long for members’ arms to become crowded and shopping carts to be filled.

Members loaded up on all kinds of great finds and even better deals. Lionel Racing’s 1:24- and 1:64-scale die-cast weren’t the only hot items. The replica helmets (both full-size and mini), t-shirts, hats and University of Racing die-cast were also big hits with everyone.

The on-site die-cast store wasn’t the only place where a member could find sought-after pieces to add to their collection. The silent auction featured several very rare and unique pieces that couldn’t be purchased in the store. Members had the opportunity to bid on several die-cast that race winners held and autographed in Victory Lane. There were race-worn autographed driving gloves, team sets of die-cast prototypes, a very rare Jimmie Johnson die-cast of which there were only 12 made and plenty of other awesome finds, including three in which the proceeds were donated to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Upon entry into the event, every member received raffle tickets that could be used on various raffle items, such as a race-used tire, an RCCA Members neon light, an RCCA Gas Pump die-cast display filled with prototypes, the front-end of one of Chase Elliott’s actual race cars and, of course, several rare die-cast. Members could earn two additional raffle tickets for every $100 they spent in the die-cast store.

Members could also have their pictures taken in front of Dale Jr.’s No. 88 Nationwide Darlington Chevrolet SS that he will drive in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 over Labor Day weekend as part of the track’s throwback campaign.

Junior Johnson also showed up and spent some time talking to Lionel President Howard Hitchcock on stage recounting stories of what it was like racing and competing in NASCAR’s early days. Afterwards, he stayed behind to autograph and chat with members.

Shortly after Junior was finished signing, one lucky member was randomly selected to participate in a 25-second shopping spree in the die-cast store. The contestant had 25 seconds to fill a shopping cart up with as many items as possible and make it back it across the finish line. If he made it back to the finish line before time expired, he would get to keep everything in his shopping cart.

In the end, the contestant was unable to make it back to the finish line in time; however, he didn’t go away empty-handed. He was able to take home a Jeff Gordon No. 24 ICON die-cast.

Everyone in attendance was also treated to a delicious free lunch catered by Jim ‘N Nick’s BBQ, which included chicken, pork, beans, mac ‘n cheese, cole slaw, banana pudding, cookies and various beverages.

As the event’s big denouement, Dale Jr. arrived amid a flurry of excited fans. He was escorted to the stage where Hitchcoco interviewed him. Among the topics he discussed, Dale spoke about his primary sponsor Nationwide and the Nationwide Children’s Hospital, which is a pediatric hospital located in Ohio.

Following the on-stage interview, Dale Jr. assisted Hitchcock in auctioning off live three rare and sought-after die-cast However, before each die-cast was placed on the auction block, Dale autographed the windshield.

The first die-cast put up for auction was the prototype of Dale’s No. 88 Nationwide Darlington Chevrolet SS. The winning bid of $4,500 belonged to David Evans of Virginia. The second live auction item was actually a set that included two die-cast: the prototype of the No. 88 Nationwide Batman Chevrolet SS and the prototype of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS. Gene Morelock of Pennsylvania won the set for his wife with a winning bid of $5,000.

The $9,500 raised from the two live auctions was donated to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital. In addition, the proceeds from the sale of the the VIP passes and the three Dale Jr. items in the silent auction went to the hospital. But that’s not all, off to the side of the stage were three pallets wrapped in blue plastic. The pallets were stacked high with trains and other kid-related toys for the patients at the Ohio hospital.

“It’s not every day that you get to hang out with 500 die-hard collectors, meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Junior Johnson and raise more than $25 thousand for a worthy cause,” said Michelle Fannin VP of Marketing and Communications for Lionel Racing. “This year’s RCCA Member Appreciation Party was our best one yet.”

After the live auction, Dale was whisked away to another part of the warehouse where he met with the members who had VIP access. While there, he signed hundreds of items and chatted with some of his biggest fans.

It was there where a tear or two may have been shed, a dream may have come true or a fan may have finally met their hero. One thing we know for sure is that hundreds of memories were made … memories that will last a lifetime.

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