Thursday, April 22, 2010

Whisky River Take My Mind

The feud between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon might be headline news in Charlotte this week. But down here in the wilds of North Florida, everyone is talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Last night, Earnhardt hosted a "private" grand opening party at his new Whisky River location in Jacksonville, Fla.

I use the term "private" loosely, as folks were packed in hip-to-hip and the line of private pass holders wrapped around the building at one point.

However, as advertised, Dale Jr. showed up just before 9 p.m. His entrance was very low key - he walked into the VIP area without any fanfare or a large entourage. In fact, his entree into the club was so inconspicuous, that many of the partiers on hand didn't even know he had entered the building - which is his usual M.O. if you've ever seen him at the track.

Still, word did spread and pretty soon the VIP section had transformed into a fishbowl with Junior the main guppy. Even after the driver took the stage to welcome the crowd and introduce country music up-and-comer Luke Bryan, lots of fans remained focused on who was clearly the real star of the night.

But even though he was playing second fiddle, Bryan rocked the stage in grand style. Having just been named Top New Artist by the Academy of Country Music, Bryan knew how to keep the buzz going. In addition to his hits "Rain Is a Good Thing" and "Do I," Bryan treated the crowd to a sing-a-long version of the old Nitty Gritty Dirt Band classic "Fishin' in the Dark."

Earlier in the night, one of the bartending "Whisky Chicks" told me that Junior was expected to make only a very brief appearance and not stay for the show. Interestingly, this ended up being false. The driver stayed long after I left - and per the folks at Whisky River - even participated in a late-night pizza cookoff with the boys in the kitchen.

And the Junior buzz didn't quite die down today either. The driver was barely out of town before news broke courtesy of FOX and ESPN that Junior will be driving the #3 in this summer's Nationwide Daytona race. Reports say it won't be the black #3, but the Wrangler paint scheme. We shall see.

We shall also see about Talladega this weekend. With all this drowning in Junior-ness, I can't help but predict that he'll win at Dega this Sunday. After all, the spoiler is back, he and the #88 team seem to have their act together, and Junior Nation is hungry for a win.

Who knows? Maybe this week's foray into the Florida sand will bring him some good luck on Sunday.

Photo info: Top - Invitation to Whisky River Private Grand Opening Party. Middle - Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes the crowd and introduces singer Luke Bryan. Bottom - Junior and the guys in the Whisky River kitchen compete in a pizza cookoff (photo courtesy of Whisky River Jax).

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