A Marion man robbed of over $20,000 worth of NASCAR items was given a Christmas gift from a state trooper in Newport.

Clifford Harris, a 70-year-old Marion resident, reported last month that someone had broken into his storage building at Economy Mini Storage on U.S. 70 West and stole an estimated $21,810 worth of NASCAR memorabilia over Thanksgiving weekend. Among the items stolen include: 1,500 small NASCAR Hot Wheels cars; 500 NASCAR diecast race cars (200 Dale Earnhardt cars, 30 Davey Allison, 30 Richard Petty, 15 Bill Elliott and various others); a Davey Allison NASCAR telephone; and 50 figurines, all in their original packaging and many of which range from 1989 onward.

“I was hurt when they stole it from me,” said Harris. “49 years ago, I was in Vietnam. If the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t gonna do something, I was gonna find them myself.”

On Dec. 4, Harris found a package waiting for him, addressed from Trooper Matthew Bunn of the NCHP in Newport. Inside were several diecast cars in their original packaging, ranging from Bill Elliot to Jeff Gordon, as well as a letter from the trooper that read, “While they will not replace the items you had and held so dear, maybe they can help you to start rebuilding your collection.” (See the full letter at the bottom.)

Harris was moved.

“It surprised me, and made me break down into tears,” said Harris. “It makes you believe that there’s good and bad people out there.”

The missing NASCAR memorabilia case is still under investigation by the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office. The theft occurred sometime between 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 24 and 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 27.

The suspect’s vehicle, a light-colored Ford truck, was caught on camera at Economy Mini Storage.

Anyone with information concerning the theft, suspect or whereabouts of the memorabilia is asked to call Detective Paul Alkire at 652-2237 or McDowell County Crime Stoppers at 65-CRIME (652-7463). Now, you can also text your tips to Crime Stoppers. Text MCDOWELLTIPS and your information to 274637 (CRIMES). With Crime Stoppers, your identity remains anonymous, and you could receive a cash reward.

Trooper Matthew Bunn’s letter:

Mr. Harris,

First and foremost, thank you for your great service to this country. I recently saw the story about your NASCAR collection being stolen. What happened to you is completely unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that the violators are caught and brought to justice.

I realize no one can know or understand the true value of your collection. Collections are personal and each item has some sort of emotional value that cannot be financially replaced.

I know your love was Dale Earnhardt but I did hear you mention Bill Elliot in the interview. Several years ago, I collected Bill Elliot memorabilia. I wanted to send the few items I had to you. While they will not replace the items you had and held so dear, maybe they can help you to start rebuilding your collection.

Best regards,

Matthew Bunn

Trooper, N.C. Highway Patrol