BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – Despite the chilly temperatures and overcast skies, dozens of race fans packed into the Blountville McDonald’s on Saturday morning.

They all waited to shake hands, snap a picture or snag an autograph from the driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota – Bubba Wallace.

From model cars to coozies and everything in between, fans young and old delighted in the chance to meet the Cup Series driver. And Wallace appreciated the turnout and opportunity to meet his local fans.

“Tennessee has always been close to my heart,” Wallace said. “My mom is from Knoxville, my dad is from Nashville, so Tennessee has always been special.”

This will be Wallace’s third shot at the Food City Dirt Race in as many years, and while he’s had solid starts each time, his finishing position hasn’t reflected it.

“Always kind of had good runs and not the finishes we deserve both times that we’ve been here,” he said. “So, looking to make that saying the third time’s the charm correct.”

Wallace finished 27th on the Bristol dirt in 2021 and 28th in 2022, but he’s hoping the red clay is kinder to him and his team in 2023.

“It’s the unpredictability,” he said. “I mean last year, we fought overheating problems, which is kind of common sense with the mud packed on the grill, right. But, there’s no way around it. So, I hope the good graces are on our side this year and we go and make the most of it.”

The green flag for the 2023 Food City Dirt Race will drop on Easter Sunday night at 8 p.m.