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Chase Elliott has climbed up racings ranks faster than dad
Dawsonville native Chase Elliott, left, poses with a fan at the 2013 Eastern Grands opening ceremonies last week. At just 17, Elliott, the son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, has made a rapid rise in the racing world. - photo by Brian Paglia for the Dawson Community News

Their entrances to the 2013 Eastern Grands at the Cumming Fairgrounds last week were fitting for their stature in the racing world and place in life.

The local legend had to be early for the event's opening ceremony. Bill Elliott was front and center before the crowd of hundreds. He wore a gray polo shirt, blue jeans and sharp brown shoes.

The legend's son slipped in after Elliott had already spoken to the crowd, posed for photos with young drivers and signed dozens of Vega baseball caps, backs of T-shirts, even an empty CD case. His dark hair slightly disheveled, Chase Elliott wore a black Hendrick Motorsports T-shirt, gray khaki shorts and boat shoes.

It didn't take long for Chase to get noticed. The first boy who spotted him approached with a hat, black sharpie pen and a permanent smile.

"You ready to race?" Chase said.

The boy only nodded his head as Chase signed his hat.

"Well, good luck," Chase said, and the boy walked away.

A few feet over, Bill was bombarded by kids and parents for autographs. A more modest line waited for Chase.

As he signed autographs, Chase looked at the little ones, some as young as 5 years old, gathered in Cumming to race in their Quarter Midget cars because it was the earliest chance they had to feel like a NASCAR driver.

"I can't believe how young these kids are," Chase said.

The racing world is saying the same thing about Chase these days. At 17, he has exploded on the national scene. He signed with Rick Hendrick Motorsports, arguably the most successful ownership group in NASCAR, in 2011 and promptly won 10 races in NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East circuit. He was the youngest winner ever of the Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla. He made his Truck Series debut this April and got off to the best three-race start in the series' history.

"He's gone really farther than what my expectations were," Bill said.

Fans and pundits' expectations are another matter. That is the burden of following a father who won 44 NASCAR races, the 1988 Winston Cup championship, two Daytona 500s and $46 million in career earnings.

Chase is following "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," "Million Dollar Bill," the most popular driver in NASCAR for 16 out of 18 seasons.

But Chase's rise comes in an era of racing far different than his father's.

Bill's story is well-documented by now. William Clyde Elliot was born Oct. 8, 1955. From the local short tracks of small towns in Georgia, Bill and his brothers, Dan and Ernie, built slowly. They got the car and money to enter Bill's first big race in 1970. He made his Winston Cup debut six years later in Rockingham, N.C., and made $640. He raced without corporate sponsorship until 1983, and then his racing career took off.

"I could kind of control my destiny by being able to work a little harder than the next guy or do something a little different, because we didn't have the money to do it," Bill said. "Today, if you don't have everything - the money, the talent, the whole deal - you're not going to win. It's just that simple."

More and more, it appears Chase might have everything. He has the backing of Hendrick Motorsports. He has 37 career victories in lower divisions. He has his father's affability, with almost 40,000 followers on Twitter and winning most popular driver in the K&N Pro Series East in 2011.

Now, there is a clock started: Nov. 28, his 18th birthday, when Chase will be eligible to race in a NASCAR series. There is his senior year of high school at King's Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, where word is his family is working with administration to front-load his academic schedule to open up 2014 for more racing.

When Rick Hendrick signed Chase two years ago, he spoke candidly about getting Chase some Nationwide Series experience next season.

All of which is making Chase's rise from Dawsonville to NASCAR stardom far more rapid than his father's.

"I'm just trying to take it one step at a time," Chase said. "You don't want to rush things. For me, I'm still at a very young age. Hopefully, I'll be able to race for a very long time. I'm trying to learn what I can right now."