Sunday, February 28, 2010

Vegas Brings A Little Intramural Drama

What are the odds that the most drama we'd see in Vegas would take place between teammates?

Then again, you can always bet on a little "friendly competition" to keep things interesting.

Just ask Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. Greg Biffle and A.J. Allmendinger.

Montoya provided the most interesting sound bites of the day, bar none, when he lit into his Earnhardt-Ganassi teammate after Jamie Mac clipped him, sending the No. 42 to the garage.

Though still livid, Montoya's televised comments were a bit toned down compared to his intial reaction on PRN radio, during which Montoya reportedly did a McMurray impression in a high-pitched voice. Of course, the pair does have a history.

McMurray did apologize for getting into Montoya, but something tells me Juan Pablo won't forgive and forget this one so easily. Just read his offical comments, released by Team Chevy -

"He (McMurray) runs straight into my (rear). He nearly ran me into the fence in (Turn) 2 as well. I don't know. He's not doing himself any favors.

"I'm sure (McMurray) is going to say, 'Oh, I didn't mean that.'

"Just Jamie (McMurray) plain and simple just wrecked us. Every time I am around him, he wants to run the (expletive) out of me. I don't know if it is ok to say that but I just did (LAUGHS). On the restart I was inside of him, I think he got tight and never lifted, I didn't hit the fence because ... it was a miracle.

"Then I arced it in to 3 and he just plain and simple just wrecked us. I'm sure on the radio it was 'Ah, I didn't mean that.' He is just trying to prove to people he can drive a race car and I guess he isn't doing too many favors on this team."

It's safe to say the team meeting at EGR this week is going to be more exciting than the race at Fontana.

Meanwhile, Jeff Gordon is probably experiencing a mixture of frustration tinged with possible regret that he ever introduced Jimmie Johnson to Rick Hendrick. After taking only two tires on his last pit stop, the driver of the No. 24 could only watch as his one-time protege roared past him to a second consecutive win.

Jeff's loss might be easier to stomach if he hadn't led more than 200 laps. But it all came down to Letarte's two-tire call, compared to the four Goodyears taken by the No. 48 crew.

Finally, in the category of almost-teammates, Greg Biffle now has a bone to pick with A.J. Allmendinger. Though Biffle is a Roush man and The Dinger drives for Richard Petty, they both are members of team Ford. And The Biff let his frustration fly on Twitter after the race, tweeting "Another good day for us!! Had a top 5 car but had to go to the back because of getting blocked by a teammate!!"

And, also via Twitter, Biffle's spotter Joel Edmonds cleared up all ambiquity about who said teammate was, "The Biff drove his ass off 2day. Had a 3rd place car got blocked in the pits by the DINGERling. Finished 10th. Headed home on BIFFLE AIR"

Fans love a good feud - even between family.  Let's hope it continues in Atlanta...

Photo info: Teammates Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya in happier days, via Fox Sports

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Will the Real Kyle Busch Please Stand Up?

Either Kyle Busch is a master a cultivating a bad boy image, or he's trying his darndest to win over more NASCAR fans in 2010.

Because it's become pretty clear since Daytona that Rowdy has been making it a point to be, well, super nice.

During pre-race festivities at the Bud Shootout, I noticed that Busch went out of his way to sign autographs for fans, even though he had just been heartily booed at driver introductions.

And then Busch joined Twitter. And instead of unleashing a torrent of smack (which I was expecting, nay hoping, to see) he starts by responding to fans' inquiries with utmost politeness, sharing his feelings about his engagement to Samantha Sarcinella and chatting with his buddy Scott Speed.

So here's my question.

Was Busch merely fooling his detractors all along by playing up his villainesque persona, or are witnessing a concerted effort by Joe Gibbs Racing's public relations arm to improve his rowdy-round-the-edges image?  The crew at JGR hinted it may be a least partly orchestrated, when they asked, via Twitter, what folks thought of Busch now that they could read his Tweets.

However, the beau geste came on Sunday, in a genius move which did much to endear Busch to the greater NASCAR nation. Busch tweeted before the Fontana race that he would give away the sunglasses he wore during his previous evening's Nationwide win to the person who could find the glasses first.

And the Joe Gibbs Racing folks were quick to point out that this generous, fan-friendly giveway was all Kyle's idea.

Guess we'll have to wait a few races to find out if this Kyle Busch is for real ... or not.

Photo: Kyle Busch signs autographs for fans before the Bud Shootout earlier this month

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Few Sponsorship Ideas for NASCAR

In what may be the most unlikely sponsorship deal in NASCAR, Kim Kardashian and Sephora will adorn the No. 36 car of Mike Bliss in Vegas on Sunday.

The car, which will trumpet Kardashian's new fragrance, features Kim's upper half amid a palette of pink ... lots of pink.

This curious collaboration and the new Toyota Sponsafier promotion (an online contest which lets fans design a potential paint scheme for their favorite Team Toyota driver), got me thinking ... what other potential sponsorship deals are out there? And which driver should be paired with which sponsor?

Here we go -

Denny Hamlin - If you saw Speed TV's "Trackside" at Fontana, you may have noticed that Hamlin was sporting a ball cap emblazoned with the word "Butter". And even though Darrell Waltrip didn't know why Hamlin was touting America's favorite biscuit spread, fans in the know did. "Butter" is the name of Hamlin's latest business venture - his new Charlotte night club - which opened a few weeks ago. With all this butter going on, I vote for Country Crock to pony up and sponsor the No. 11 car. Then Brad K could sport an "I Can't Believe It's NOT Butter" car. Just sayin'.

Tony Stewart - When asked by the media last week about Twitter, Smoke made it pretty clear that only people who have no lives Tweet. I beg to differ, but I'd like to see that happy little bluebird all over Stewart's car at an upcoming race. And if Twitter doesn't work out, what about "Just for Men"? Smoke IS getting a little gray in the beard - and if the much-advertised men's product is good enough for Emmitt Smith, why not Tony?

Juan Pablo Montoya - At the risk of taking a 2009 joke too far, Montoya would utterly endear himself to NASCAR fans if he hit the track with a Taco Bell paint scheme. After the taco/Bob Griese "controversy" of last season, this sponsor/driver pairing would be a hoot.

Michael Waltrip - Mikey has the best looking head of hair on the NASCAR circuit (although Clint Bowyer is giving him a run for his money of late). Why not celebrate Mikey's fabulous coiffure with a little bit of hair stuff on the hood? Just the name of Herbal Essence's new line "Tousle Me Softly" would give Waltrip something to tweet about for at least a week ...

Jamie McMurray - I'm really not a mean girl, but sometimes I can't help being a little snarky. After McMurray's crying jag in Daytona's Victory Lane ... and in the post-race press conference ... and on the post-race show on Speed, I'm thinking McMurray should work out a partnership with Kleenex. That way, the next time he won a big race, he wouldn't have to cry into a towel. Bless his heart.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Extreme Makeover: "Jeff Gordon Edition" to Air April 11

We know he can wheel a car ... but how well does Jeff Gordon swing a hammer?

We'll find out on April 11, when Gordon will appear as the celebrity volunteer on an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition".

Gordon joins team leader Ty Pennington and designers Ed Sanders, Paige Hemmis, and John Littlefield as they rebuild the Loris, S.C. home of Amanda and Derrick Suggs. The Suggs are a young couple who had just started their own family when they adopted Amanda’s younger siblings to prevent them from being separated in foster care.

Tune in and watch Gordon go to work!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Story Behind That Dale Jr. Painting

If you were watching Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s live video chat Wednesday night, then the image above probably looks familiar.

For almost an hour, Junior answered fans' questions live, via the magic of cyberspace, about everything from racing strategy to his favorite food. And the entire time, this painting could be seen on the wall behind him.

I watched the chat, and I also watched lots of his fans submit questions via Twitter and AIM about that painting. What was it? Where could they get one? And so forth.

Unfortunately, those questions didn't make it to Junior's ears. However, after lots of Googling and a little elbow grease, I managed to track down the artist who painted the scene - Eric Soller - and discovered that fans can still purchase their own print of this same scene.

I found that Soller also does a lot more than paint the action in Junior's pit box. Read on to find out more about his life as a NASCAR artist and other paintings of his that are in the works.

How long have you been an artist and when and how did you get involved with NASCAR?

"I’ve been painting all my life. However, the past 25 years of my career have been in the graphic arts and advertising world providing illustration and design. I just recently changed directions and started building my painting career on a full time basis. I obtained licensing from NASCAR and the teams at the end of the 2009 season to produce limited edition Giclee prints of the paintings, so I’m now an 'Officially Licensed Artist of NASCAR'. I originally moved to Charlotte, NC in 2005 and was associated with another NASCAR licensee, but it ran its course. I started photographing images along pit road, and once I saw these images through the viewfinder, I was blown away. The artist in me thought they would make great images to paint, presenting a view of the sport that not many people get a chance to see."

Do you paint from photographs or from memory? Do you go to a lot of races?

"I paint from photo references I take, I try to be completely true and accurate to the sport. I typically work from several photos of multiple pit stops to get as much detail as possible into each painting. Each one takes quite a while to produce because I strive to fit in as much action and excitement as I can. Beyond the main focal point, I include everything, from the crowd in the stands, the cars racing off pit road to the line of other cars and teams down pit road as well as trying to capture the adrenaline of the crews. My paintings focus on the team aspect of the sport, where I try to show the athleticism and finesse of the over-the-wall team members. Last year I went to about 10-12 races. I probably won’t be able to attend as many races this year, but we’ll see, that’s what I’m shooting for."

Tell me about this painting of the Amp car. When did you paint it and which track is this from?

"This painting of the AMP car was created from photos I took at the March Atlanta race in 2008. The licensing process took me longer to get in place then expected, but now that licensing is complete, I plan on doing more paintings, if these sell. It’s tough because I’ve got to meet minimum guarantees to be able to continue, so it’s in the hands of fans right now and if they feel the prints are worth owning."

Do you have a favorite driver? What about a favorite racing memory?

"I really don’t have any favorite driver; I’m just a real fan of the sport and love a good race. One of the more memorable race experiences I’ve had was when I first staring shooting along pit road, there was so much to take in. I was shooting the cars as they were all coming in to pit. I had camped out in a location where pit road had a break in it, one of the driveways heading into the garages. I was kneeling down low to get a dramatic angle of the shot, and Tony Stewart’s pit stall was to my left, right after the gap in the wall. When he came diving into his pit stall, at the low angle I was positioned, I thought I was going to get run over. Through the viewfinder it looked as if he was coming right at me, and I know he couldn’t see me below his left front fender as he was diving into his pit stall. Thank goodness he’s got such good car control, he probably didn’t come that close to me, but through the camera’s viewfinder, perspectives are exaggerated, and it was a sight I’ll never forget."

Will you have new prints available this season - any new paintings planned?

"Yes, I do have new paintings planned for this year. I’m almost done with a painting of Mark Martin’s car and team from Bristol last year, during his 1000th race. If that gets licensed and approved, I hope to have it available soon. I’ve been offered the opportunity to paint Danica’s Nationwide car, so I’ll need to work through the licensing and approval details once completed and hope to have it available when she returns to New Hampshire in June."

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Few Fontana Notes

So the Spring Fontana race is in the history books. And other than Kevin Harvick's charge at the end and some mild concern about rain shortening the event, the whole thing was a bit of a snooze fest.

But even though I might have dozed off during portions of the broadcast, I did pay attention well enough to observe a few things. So here are my Fontana notes. Now on to Vegas!

In the category of "It's Probably Too Early to Say This, But I Will Anyway" - what in the heck happened to Scott Speed during the off season? The Red Bull racer was darn impressive at Daytona and he ran great in Cali as well. Looks like he's going to have a much better year than 2009.

Luckiest Dude on the Planet - When the world is your oyster, every single race can turn into a pearl. And every event at Fontana swung Jimmie Johnson's way (must be that golden horseshoe). Of course, he still had to outdrive a hard-charging Kevin Harvick at the finish. However, Harvick tapped the wall and JJ cruised on to a win. Must be nice to be so darn lucky.

Speaking of Harvick - Richard Childress Racing is back. After a lackluster 2009, Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer are showing well and racing up front. Both Harvick and Burton had the race all but won at different times. And it's great to see these teams this competitive so early in the season. Harvick and Burton will be in victory lane before too long - they just need some of Jimmie's good fortune to rub off on them.

Empty stands
- Even though the broadcasters on FOX didn't mention it, the pictures tell the tale. Does anyone in California like NASCAR enough to actually buy a race ticket? I know things are tough all over, but come on! All of those empty sections on the front stretch were borderline embarrassing and each empty seat flies in the face of that old cinematic adage "If you build it, they will come." Maybe NASCAR should rethink Fontana's two-race deal.

Darrell Waltrip, Climatologist - Waltrip's theory regarding how race cars keep the rain away is so off-the-wall, there could actually be something to it. He said he believes that when cars go round and round the track at high speeds, they create some sort of "vortex" that actually wards off inclimate weather. Waltrip's hypothesis just might be believable if both Daytona AND Fontana hadn't been rained out last year.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Not the Feud We Expected...

At the end of last season, it was pretty evident that Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski would continue their fender-banging, smack-talking feud into 2010.

But leave it to California to rekindle a feud that may have had the least shelf life.

Who would have guessed that Greg Biffle and Joey Logano would be the first to renew the bad blood we saw last year?

To be honest, this particular imbroglio hardly seems fair. Biffle is a vet who has been racing in the Nationwide Series for 11 years, and in Cup for nine. Logano got his first start in both series as recently as 2008.

Yet Biff continues to pick on The Kid.

Before Biffle got into him, Logano had his first win of the season essentially locked up. He led almost every lap and was looking strong down the stretch. But then that pesky Biffle got into him on the restart with two laps to go. And their little dustup gave Kyle Busch the chance he needed to pull out a victory.

Logano, post-race, looked none too happy and quickly put the blame on Biffle's shoulders, ending with what could be construed as a threat. “You keep doing that, and eventually it’s going to come back and bite you,” Logano said.

Meanwhile, Biffle chalked up their contact to a "rookie mistake" of Logano's, saying The Kid spun his tires on the restart.

Not quite the verbal fusillade that characterized the Hamlin versus Keselowski match. But who knows? If Logano gets pushed one more time, he might just shed that choir boy persona and hit Biff where it hurts.

Now that would be something to see.

Photo: Joey Logano's pole-winning No. 20 car led almost the whole race, but didn't take the checkers - Getty Images

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Top 10 Reasons Why NASCAR Is Better Than the Olympics

I used to care about the Olympics. Let me clarify that. I still do care how many medals the Americans rack up during the 2010 Winter Games. However, thus far, the excitement of watching the competition in Vancouver hasn’t had me on the edge of my seat.

Maybe I’m still on an adrenaline high from the Daytona 500. But regardless, I’ve been thinking about how the Olympics compares to NASCAR and I’ve come to a conclusion.
There IS no comparison.

So, in the spirit of David Letterman, I give you my Top 10 Reasons Why NASCAR Is Better Than the Olympic Winter Games:

10. You don’t have to listen to other countries’ national anthems

9. When a driver uses profanity on the team radio, it doesn't make national news.

8. That biased judge from Russia doesn’t get a vote

7. Your favorite driver doesn’t have to wait four years to redeem himself if he has an off performance.

6. No curling allowed.

5. A race broadcast is REALLY live - not tape-delayed.

4. Dale Jr’s Beard has a Twitter account. Can Shaun White’s hair say that?

3. NASCAR was started by some Southerners who ran moonshine and drove fast. The Olympics were begun by some Greeks who ran around naked.

2. When a bunch of drivers wreck at Talladega, they don't make the track smaller.

1. You’ll never catch a NASCAR driver adding feathers or sequins to his firesuit.

Speaking of sequins, I found the most bedazzled Olympian of them all performing to Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" back in 2009 and had to share:

Gilette 500 - Joey Logano and Kyle Busch Drive Thru

One of my readers shared this video with me and I thought it was pretty fun. It's one of the new Gillette 500 commercials - and this ad features Kyle Busch and Joey Logano manning a fast food drive thru. Check it out:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sights and Sounds from Daytona

The Daytona 500 was one long race day. But when fans weren't waiting around for pothole repair, there was plenty to see and do. Below are some of my favorite photos and videos from Daytona 500 weekend. Enjoy!

Sign-waving fans line the Speed TV stage before the race.

Kyle Petty autographs Home Depot hard hats before the Raceday broadcast.

Kenny Wallace gets race fans pumped up for the 500.

Ryan Newman's No. 39 car on the starting grid.

Jeff Gordon chats with folks in the garage area before the race.

Clint Bowyer hanging out pre-race.

Mark Martin's pole-winning No. 5 Chevy in the garage.

Joey Logano's No. 20 rolls through.

Dale Earnhardt Jr's second-place No. 88

What to do during pothole repair? Take pix of the Daytona sunset.

It's iPhone quality, but here's a couple minutes of Dale Jr's interview on the Chevy Stage before the race.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Junior Nation - the Real Winner at Daytona

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in second at the Daytona 500. But you'd never know it

His breath-holding, hard-charging finish was more than a shot in the arm for Junior Nation. It led to a fever-pitched revival that made his fans yell for joy, hug each other in the stands and grin from ear-to-ear long after the race was over.

As Junior crossed the finish line, fans in the superstretch grandstand were hollering and waving their hats in excitement. Then, as the No. 88 came 'round the track after the finish, folks rushed to the fence to applaud their approbation. The true Nation diehards even stayed in their seats 'til Junior's post-race interview played on the Jumbotron.

Can you imagine what would've happened if Junior had actually won? The place might have imploded.

And on the long trek back to the car, the comments you overheard weren't about race winner Jamie McMurray. It was all Junior.

"I told ya he could drive!"

"Did you see that car comin' to the front? All he needed was one more lap."

"Man alive, it was good to see the 88 running good."

You get the picture.

It looks like, at least for this race, Dale Jr. has put last year's misery behind him. And, more importantly, he's given the Nation a big fat reason to hope.

Which is why there were actually two winners at Daytona on Sunday.

McMurray was just one of them.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Daytona From the Cheap Seats

Leading up to the Daytona 500, fans heard lots of hype about reduced ticket prices. In an effort to ensure a sellout crowd, the Daytona International Speedway promoted the dickens out of their $55 superstretch tickets - the cheapest seats at the track.

A sucker for a good deal, I decided to snap up a couple of these cheap seats, just to see how the bargain basement experience compares to say, a much pricier spot on the finish line.

So Sunday morning, I headed to the Speedway at the crack of dawn armed with my cheap ticket, a warm jacket, and a list of budget-friendly things to do. I was determined to see how much bang I could get for my 55 bucks.

I paid nothing extra for the below activities. And I'm pleased to report that my experiment proves that if you plan ahead and have some patience, you can have a fantastic race experience without putting your engagement ring in hock.

Autographs at the Speed Stage - I hit the Speed TV stage early, well before the show's scheduled broadcast time of 9 a.m., and my early arrival paid off. The Speed staff hands out Home Depot hard hats and beads before the show. And before it went live, hosts Kenny Wallace and Kyle Petty walked down to the fans and signed autographs. Driver Paul Menard even stopped by. I hung around for the first live segment of the show and it was pretty entertaining - besides, where else could you see Wallace shake it like this?

Coca-Cola Track Walk - I had the best of intentions, but I didn't get to the Speedway early enough to register for the free Coca-Cola Track Walk. However, hundreds of other race fans did make it in time - and they were rewarded for their efforts. They got to see Jeff Burton, Clint Bowyer and Dale Jarrett kick it all off by waving the green flag.

Jeff Gluck Tweetup - This may have been my favorite free activity of all. Current SB Nation blogger and bona fide Twitter celebrity @jeff_gluck is the originator of the race day tweetup - and the Daytona edition was the biggest yet. We met in front of the Daytona 500 Experience and were joined by Nationwide driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Newton from, folks from Watkins Glen International Speedway and a host of other online personalities, media members and Tweeps. As a special bonus, Gluck handed out free swag. What's not to love?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. - I hightailed it from the Tweetup hoping to make it to the Turn 4 Chevy stage in time to see Jeff Burton talk to the crowd. Unfortunately, I missed Burton - but I did snag a pretty good vantage point from which to watch Dale Jr. talk to fans. The event was a Q&A session with a rep from Chevy - and it was lots of fun. Junior talked everything from racing strategy to what's on his iPod (country music) and he also revealed his plans for Whisky River (the Jacksonville location opens in April, and he'd like to open another location in Nashville).

Walking, Walking and Walking - The only people who get anywhere fast at Daytona International Speedway are the drivers on the track. It's wall-to-wall people and you've got to accept the fact that it's going to take a while to get where you want to go. While hiking from the Chevy Stage to the Turn 2 Grandstand, I was pretty glad I had missed Coca-Cola Track Walk registration - but the hike was a great way to warm up on a pretty chilly day.

Great view - I had never before watched a race from the backstretch, and I was thrilled with how well I could actually see the cars racing by. Since the superstretch is flat, you're treated to a terrific view of the cars coming off of Turn 1 driving into Turn 2 and racing down the straightaway. It's also a great place to be if you like watching wrecks firsthand. We saw our share.

Free advice - About midway through the first Potholegate, the more innovative fans in my vicinity began spouting off how they thought NASCAR should fix the "imperfection" on the track. Among the ideas I overheard? Georgia clay and sand. Quikrete. "Real" asphalt. Barricade tape and traffic cones. And this more laissez faire solution - "Just let 'em drive through it and let the chips fall where they may." Looks to me like NASCAR ended up using a combination of toothpaste and whiteout.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gillette Young Guns Kick Off Different Sort of Race

If you've seen the commercials this weekend, you already know that the drivers known as the Gillette Young Guns are participating in a different type of race this year.

Beginning in Daytona, a Gillette-branded motorcoach will travel coast-to-coast, making special pit stops at all the drivers’ hometowns. The Gillette Young Guns “shave teams” feature Clint Bowyer with Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch with Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin with Kasey Kahne. Throughout the competition, the teams will be on a mission to record a goal of more than 500,000 shaves – the equivalent of 500 miles of skin – with the Gillette Fusion MVP™ razor before April 30.

“We are looking for interesting and personal ways to connect with our drivers’ loyal fan base,” said Michelle Potorski, Associate Marketing Director, Gillette North America. “The Gillette 500 provides fans with an opportunity to support their favorite driver and to see the Gillette Young Guns recruiting guys to join their team.”

The campaign will be supported by a series of webisodes, along with a television spot that will debut during the Daytona 500 on FOX. All the “shave teams” were featured in the creative spots in various comical settings recruiting fans to become a part of their team. One team visits an ice skating rink, while another stops by a local book club meeting to reinforce how even guys with sensitive skin can use the Gillette Fusion MVP™ razor everyday.

For all the race details, fans can log onto In addition to joining one of the shave teams in the goal to achieve 500 miles of shaved skin, fans have the opportunity to enter the Gillette 500 sweepstakes. The sweepstakes will award one registered fan with the opportunity to receive a hometown visit by one of the Gillette Young Guns. Fans can come back to everyday to submit both their shaves and an additional entry to the sweepstakes.

Junior Johnson Talks Rule Bending, Breakfast and Racing

Junior Johnson is an American legend. One of the original superstars of NASCAR, Johnson was among the icons of the sport named to the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and he'll serve as Grand Marshal for Sunday's Daytona 500.

It's not every day you get to catch up with a legend. But Johnson took some time before his trip to Daytona to answer our questions about his new line of breakfast food, breaking the rules back in the day, and being a NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Tell me a little bit about your Junior Johnson Brand product line and why you decided to get into the food business.

“Well, we have a very successful ham and pork skin company so we've been in the food business for over 10 years, and I love to eat. We created this new line of Junior Johnson Brand products based on some of the most popular breakfast items we serve out here on our ranch almost every day. People who would come join us for breakfast would always say ‘Junior, why don't you package these products and sell them in the stores. People would love them.’ So that's what we did. Biscuits are a big favorite here and my favorites have always been country ham biscuits and sweet potato biscuits. A lot of people don't know that over 40% of all the sweet potatoes purchased in the U.S. are grown right here in North Carolina. We use real NC Sweet potatoes in our biscuits. Pigs In A Blanket and Sausage Morning Rolls are famous down here in the south. We have 2 kids in school and it is great to have something Lisa and I can heat up quickly before they run off for the day. Of course you have to have something to drink with these products so we came out with our own Sweet Tea and Lemonade. I think these are the best you can buy anywhere. We also have some new stuff coming out so stay tuned.”

I hear you still serve a big breakfast at your garage every day - how and when did this all start and do you have a favorite breakfast recipe?

“I cannot tell you how long we have been having breakfast there, but it has been a long time. I started the breakfast tradition to get everyone into the garage earlier each morning. I figured if I served breakfast, my employees wouldn’t be so late to work (laughing). We serve a traditional Southern breakfast, so we have a lot of the recipes that most people no longer serve, like livermush, hog jaw and streak o’ lean. Of course, we always like the standards like biscuits and ham.”

I've been reading Mark Bechtel's new book "He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back" in which he talks about your earlier years in racing. Tell me about some of the rules you "bent" back in the day. What was the best illegal adjustment you made to a car that NASCAR never found out about?

“We used to get by with a lot, that was part of racing back then. I think the best adjustment that we got away with on a regular basis was using needle bearings in the engine instead of flat bearings. No one would ever find those, so we just made them standard practice. No one was going to take the time to check everything, so we bent the rules where we could.”

How does it feel to be an inaugural inductee into the NASCAR Hall of Fame? And, on top of that, the Grand Marshal for this year's Daytona 500?

“To be in this first class of the Hall Of Fame is probably the most special thing that has happened to me in my whole career. To be up beside the most influential people in the history of NASCAR is pretty humbling. Daytona has always held a special place with me since I won down there in 1960. This is where racing really got going on the beaches and so forth. I feel honored to be the Grand Marshal at such a big event like the Daytona 500.”

Lots of fans think NASCAR rules are too strict now and that crew chiefs and drivers don't have enough freedom - what do you think about the quality of racing today. Do you think a tight rein by NASCAR officials is good for the sport?

“The racing today is obviously a lot different than in my day. I've always thought that there should be the opportunity to be able to innovate and outwork your competitors to gain an advantage. This is what made it fun and made the racing exciting for the fans. I don't think I would have fared too well with all of these new rules back in my day (laughing). But, what they have been able to do in terms of safety for the drivers is pretty amazing. You have got to keep the racing exciting for the fans. They pay a lot of money to come to these races and they deserve good racing.”

Editor's note: My family and I have sampled Johnson's Morning Rolls, Sweet Potato Biscuits and Buttermilk Biscuits. Though the Morning Rolls were the hands-down favorite (must be the sausage encased in a bunch of flaky biscuit dough), the biscuits were pretty darn tasty too!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Why DIS Is the Best Place to Spend V-Day ...

Ed. Note - My friends at The Breakup Cookbook blog asked me to do a NASCAR-themed Valentine's post. Thanks ladies! A portion of the post is below.

The Daytona 500 falls on Valentine’s Day this year. And this single girl plans to be trackside, celebrating the best V-Day ever.

I know what you’re thinking. Watching loud cars go round and round a paved oval is about as Valentine-ish as say, a teddy bear bought at a gas station. I beg to differ.

Below are a few reasons why the Daytona 500 is the best place to be on V-day. Read on and see if I don’t change your mind.

1. Manly men – The great thing about race day? There are boys everywhere. And they’re usually a combination of John Wayne and Bo Duke. In short, There are no metro/technosexuals here. You don’t have to worry that any of these guys dream of starting their own hair care line. Nor would they rather spend less time with you and more time with the latest issue of Wired. In fact, a race guy can do all sorts of useful things, such as change the oil in your car, barbecue like Bobby Flay or simply stand there and look hot in his oily, worn-out jeans. Of course, you might have to compete for attention with his favorite driver. But that’s not so bad. After all, several drivers are just as good for eye candy as any guy you’d pick up at the track.

Read the rest at Breakup Cookbook!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Daytona Deja Vu

There must be something about Daytona that turns Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers into a pair of star-crossed drivers.

Last year, the two tangled during the Daytona 500 to wreck half the field and begin what's become known as The Junior Slump of 2009.

And then in this afternoon's second race, Vickers and Junior got too close again again - leaving Junior pretty (insert profanity here)-ing angry while trying to race a car that was too dented up to make much of a difference in the outcome.

Junior wasn't the only driver who had a bone to pick with Vickers. Juan Pablo Montoya also voiced his highly charged opinions about the Red Bull driver on his team's radio, just after Vickers dropped Montoya, leaving the No. 42 car out of the draft.

Speaking of duels, Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin start the Daytona 500 side by side. And something tells me their 2009 feud hasn't been forgotten. Hamlin was banging anything with sheet metal during his duel race today. Imagine when Keselowski is in the driver's seat, how hard Hamlin will hit.

If the incidents in today's races are any indication, things could get dicey and fiesty come Sunday.

Bring it on!

Photo info: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew works on his car during a Gatorade Duel qualifying auto race for NASCAR's Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010. - Associated Press

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Behind the Scenes of Coke's Newest NASCAR Commercial

Race fans will see a whole new side of their favorite drivers as some of the sport’s biggest stars show off their singing abilities in Coca-Cola’s latest television commercial set to debut during the DAYTONA 500 (Sunday, Feb. 14, 1 p.m. on FOX).

The new spot, entitled “Harmony,” offers a NASCAR® twist on one of the most popular commercials ever – Coca-Cola’s iconic “Hilltop,” which first aired in 1971 – as several drivers belt out the famous song, “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” while battling one another on the racetrack. In the ad, Coca-Cola Racing Family members Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Bobby Labonte, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart show how even the most competitive rivals can Open Happiness with Coca-Cola.

A Tequila Tailgating Tasty Good Time

Editor's Note: When I asked my buddy Heather to contribute a foodie post for NASCAR-ista, she was only too happy to oblige. After all, she's the creator of a fabulous blog called The Breakup Cookbook "Sauteing Your Way Back to Sanity." Be sure to check out her site and whether you're tailgating at the track or hosting an UnValentine's Day/Daytona 500 party, these yummy shrimp will strike just the right note!

By Heather Q.

Right around January 1st I kept seeing all these Facebook posts already proclaiming 2010 the best year in the history of years (which is good news if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

I was inclined to believe it, mostly because 2009 was the worst year in the history of years. But the fact that the Daytona 500 falls on Valentine's Day leaves me dubious ... and I don't even have a boyfriend right now. (It ended in that blasted 2009.)

But in the spirit of taking lemons and making lemonade, I bring you a tailgating recipe to help make this Valentine's Day at the track, if not the most romantic, then one of the tastiest. And in honor of Daytona, Fla., I'm focusing on seafood. Specifically, a Tequila Shrimp that will turn more heads than Danica ever did.

This comes courtesy of my friends at - their recipes are always 5-star. I've loved this one - as have those whom I've let share.

Tequila Shrimp
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium white onion, minced
4 medium cloves garlic, minced
40 medium uncooked shrimp (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled, deveined, and halved lengthwise
1/2 cup tequila
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, plus extra limes for serving
Pico de Gallo, for serving (optional)
Guacamole, for serving (optional)

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it shimmers, add onion and garlic, season with salt, and cook until translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add shrimp and cook until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, add tequila, and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate any browned bits. Return the pan to heat. (If you want, carefully tilt the pan to ignite tequila.) Simmer until the alcohol smell has cooked off and shrimp are fully cooked, about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in lime juice, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste, adjust seasoning as necessary, and serve with extra lime wedges, Pico de Gallo, and Guacamole.

If you're feeling adventurous, you can take your fabulous Tequila Shrimp and add it to Jack Cheese and flour tortillas to make Quesadillas.

9 ounces grated Monterey Jack cheese (about 4 cups)
8 (10-inch) flour tortillas
Tequila Shrimp

Scatter 1/2 cup of the cheese evenly over 1 tortilla. Using a slotted spoon, remove 1/4 of the Tequila Shrimp from their sauce, arrange on the tortilla, and drizzle with shrimp sauce to your liking. Scatter with another 1/2 cup of the cheese and top with a second tortilla. Repeat to make 4 quesadillas.

Heat a seasoned cast iron skillet or a large frying pan over medium heat. Add 1 quesadilla and cook until the cheese melts and the bottom tortilla has a few golden brown spots, about 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bottom tortilla has a few golden brown spots. Repeat for remaining quesadillas. Slice into quarters and serve. Bask in glory.

Photo courtesy of

Too Sick for Smoke

Imagine my elation when I was given the opportunity to interview Tony Stewart at yesterday's Office Depot appearance in Ormond Beach, Fla.

Imagine my chagrin when I got sick Sunday night with a hacking, snuffly fever that kept me from making the trip to meet Smoke.

I briefly debated showing up sick, but didn't think Stewart would appreciate being exposed to contagion right before the Daytona 500. Not to mention, driving wasn't advised on the meds I've been taking.

Alas, some things just aren't meant to be.

Fortunately, the folks at Edelman/Office Depot were nice enough to provide me with this pic of yesterday's event. Looks like Stewart and his fans were having a good time.

Wish I could have been there!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monte Dutton - Eyewitness to NASCAR History

Agree with him or no, you’ve got to respect a guy like Monte Dutton. Dutton, who has been covering NASCAR since 1993, is one of the few journalists who can rightly be called an eyewitness to NASCAR history. And, when it comes to putting today’s NASCAR into context, this historian is no revisionist.

His assessments of the sport are blunt. His belief in the NASCAR party line often skeptical. But his journalistic candor is well-earned and, you could say, a logical result of his firsthand view of the sport’s evolution.

“Most of the people who do what I do originally didn’t know much about it, they were signed by a newspaper, and they know all about it now. But they don’t have the perspective,” Dutton said. “The first race I ever went to was at Bristol when I was seven years old. A Jarrett won - Ned Jarrett.”

Witnessing the ascendance of more than one Jarrett into racing’s upper echelon is just one of the changes Dutton has seen over the years. Most notably, Dutton has watched NASCAR enact myriad rules in an attempt to officiate the ever-changing sport. Yet as any student of the sport’s past will tell you, some of the tight controls which are now the norm have led to some negative consequences.

Take the generic look of the race cars, for instance.

“When I first started covering races in 1993, I remember marveling when I was driving to a race that the rarest thing you’d ever see would be a Ford with a Dale Earnhardt sticker or a Chevy with a Bill Elliott sticker,” Monte said. “Well now they’re all Hondas. And I think that NASCAR is sort of insulting fans in trying to tell them the decal of a headlight is the difference between a Ford and a Chevy.”

Dutton’s comments bring to mind the lyrics of an old David Lee Murphy song about a barmaid who spent her time breaking up fights over Chevys and Fords. Yet today’s fans are more likely to get into fights over Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. than the make of their favorite driver’s car.

“Now NASCAR will say ‘Well, it’s the driver now. Brand loyalty’s not as important,’ ” explained Dutton. “Well they pretty much destroyed brand loyalty. It was their own concerted attempt to do that, by gradually making the cars more and more alike.”

Dutton said the equalization of cars started in the late 1980s because the Fords had an advantage aerodynamically. So, to even out the racing, NASCAR allowed Chevys and Pontiacs to put window glass in the back. This decision snowballed into the more generic-looking cars seen by fans today. And less innovaton in the garage.

“Gradually over time, it became where teams, instead of relying on their own ingenuity, began relying on NASCAR to solve all their problems, and NASCAR was only too happy to oblige, but I don’t think it’s for the good.” Dutton said. “They’ve just systematically undermined it (brand loyalty). There still is brand loyalty, but it’s not what it was. And it’s hurt the manufacturers too.”

Ironically, NASCAR’s current economic woes may lead to a return to greater brand identity, including modifications to the sheet metal on the cars. Talk about coming full circle.

“I think it might be about to happen, because NASCAR never does anything unless you hit ‘em in the pocketbook and they’ve done all kind of things now because attendance and TV ratings are going down,” Dutton said. “They’re losing money so they’re rethinking all these things.”

Spoken like a true realist.

NASCAR-ista note: Thanks to Monte Dutton for taking the time on a busy race day to do the interview and for David Cohea of NASCAR This Week for setting things up and contributing photos. In addition to covering NASCAR for the Gaston Gazette, Dutton moonlights as a singer/songwriter. Check out his music on Facebook and MySpace.

Danica Wins 'Em Over at Daytona

Psst ... I have a confession to make.

Despite the papparazzi-like coverage of her ascendance into NASCAR, her GoDaddy commercials of questionable taste and those body-baring photos which pepper the 'net, I might like Danica Patrick after all.

This was not the case as I entered the Daytona infield Saturday. Even while watching her No. 7 car roll past me on its way to the starting grid, I felt coldly indifferent in regard to Patrick's fate. After all, how could she possiblly live up to all that hype? Surely there were other female ARCA drivers (like Leilani Munter or fellow Floridian Alli Owens) who better deserved my respect and attention.

But Danica? I just expected her to hang in the back, get caught up in an early pileup, and hop out of the car to a mediocre finish.

I never expected I would actually start cheering for her.

But that's what happened. From my perch in the grandstands, I watched Danica hold her own at full speed, avoid the ARCA wreckfest and pull off a save in the tri-oval that would make even an inveterate Patrick-hater nod with grudging respect.

I guess there's something about seeing a fellow chick not "wussing out" that made me actually start applauding each time she drove by.

And I wasn't alone. Fans of all ilk and affiliation seated nearby jumped to their feet as she slid through the grass and hooted and hollered as she wheeled it back onto the frontstretch. And, as Patrick rolled onto pit road at race's end, she was treated to a standing ovation for her sixth place finish.

Danica passed the ARCA test. But, more importantly, she passed the fan test.

Given her debut, today's announcement that she has decided to run the Nationwide season opener this Saturday is no surprise. Sure, running with the Nationwide crowd will be bring a whole new level of challenges, but you gotta love a girl who's not afraid to play with the boys.

“Racing in the Nationwide Series race was my goal during this entire two-month preparation process, but we wanted to make sure it was the right thing to do," Patrick said today. "The ARCA race was a blast, and I’m not ready for my first Daytona Speedweeks to end just yet. I want more racing.”

So do we. You go girl.

Photo info: Danica Patrick readies to race in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 Arca Race at Daytona - Associated Press

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Few Sights From the Bud Shootout

With the Daytona 500 qualifying at 1 p.m., the ARCA race at 4 p.m. and the Bud Shootout at 8 p.m., yesterday was one long day at the track. But getting there early paid dividends, as the fan zone wasn't yet very crowded, nor was the garage area swarming with pass holders.

As this marathon day unfolded, potential storylines surfaced which could turn 2010 into one heckuva season. Mark Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr's impressive qualifying runs and Kevin Harvick's second consecutive Shootout win are just the tip of the iceberg.

I'll post a few more stories in the next couple days - including an interview with esteemed NASCAR reporter Monte Dutton and my take on Danica Patrick (because it looks like she'll run the Nationwide race at Daytona after all).

Until then, enjoy the pix!

The Pace Car Camaros ready to go.

Aric Almirola's new No. 09 car in the garage prior to inspection.

The Blue Deuce of Kurt Busch on its way to inspection.

Danica Patrick's car on its way to the starting grid.

Kurt Busch hanging out post qualifying.

Mark Martin smiles and waves at the fans.

Zac Brown band rocks the stage before the Shootout.

Carl Edwards signs autographs after driver intros.

The newly engaged Kyle Busch visits with fans before the Shootout.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Connick to Croon at the Daytona 500

Have I died and gone to heaven? Or did the gods of NASCAR know just exactly what I wanted for Valentine's Day?

Last night I found out that the enormously talented and ridiculously good-looking Dierks Bentley will be giving a concert Friday night, Feb. 12 at Daytona Beach's Ocean Deck. Then today, I get a press release from Daytona International Speedway, informing me that Harry Connick Jr. will be singing, or should I say crooning, the National Anthem before this year's Daytona 500.

I've been a Connick fan since 10th grade, when I saw him perform in Jacksonville, Fla. with his entire orchestra. The man's voice is smooth as silk and he's not too hard on the eyes either.

Let's see, NASCAR, Dierks and Harry Connick Jr.all in one weekend - that's a Valentine's Day gift any girl would love!

Photo: Harry Connick Jr. will sing the National Anthem at this year's Daytona 500

Crown Royal to Honor Military Hero at RIR

While race fans gear up for the Daytona 500, the makers of Crown Royal Canadian whisky, today announced fans will also have the opportunity to choose one of America’s true heroes to receive naming rights to the Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway on May 1.

As part of the Crown Royal “Your Name Here” 400 contest, five finalists from various branches of the armed services have been selected to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Daytona to participate in a special ceremony to unveil the grand-prize winner, as well as attend the historic Daytona 500. The finalists, in no specific order, are:

Heath Calhoun, Army (retired), Clarksville , Tenn.
Chris Dempsey, Army National Guard, Yuma , Ariz.
Rick Hudson, Navy, Gulfport , Miss.
Georgia Powell, Air National Guard, Harrisburg , Pa
Brian Speach, Army National Guard, Clifton Park , N.Y.

This marks the first time in the four-year history of the Crown Royal “Your Name Here” program that only military service members were chosen as finalists. It also signifies the first time ever that fans will be able to cast their votes on for whose name they think should be incorporated into the annual Cup Series event in Richmond . All the finalists were nominated by their family, friends or fellow soldiers for their ability to demonstrate the core values of the military in performing a selfless act that made them a hero.

Some of the selfless acts of this year’s finalists include resuscitating a boy after drowning and helping to save a group of local nationals who were critically injured. Fans of legal drinking age are encouraged to visit to read a complete background on the finalists and to cast a vote. Voting ends on February 10.

“Richmond International Raceway couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this program with Crown Royal each season,” said Doug Fritz, President, Richmond International Raceway. “Allowing fans to select the winner is a great way for Crown Royal to highlight all the truly touching stories of this year’s finalists. We look forward to honoring another amazing individual with everything we do during the race in May.”

The winner will be announced from Daytona on February 12 with all the finalists, NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth and representatives from Crown Royal and Richmond International Raceway in attendance.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Johnson Marks Anniversary as Daytona Grand Marshal

NASCAR has said it plans to return to the sport's roots this year.

And true to that promise, NASCAR has named racing legend Junior Johnson the Grand Marshal for this year's Daytona 5oo.

Johnson will mark the 50th anniversary of his 1960 Daytona 500 triumph by delivering the four most famous words in motorsports – “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

“Junior Johnson is an icon in NASCAR racing,” Daytona International Speedway President Robin Braig said. “His accomplishments are remarkable and we’re proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his 1960 Daytona 500 win by having him preside as Grand Marshal of NASCAR’s most storied event.”

Johnson, who was the first driver to use drafting on the superspeedways, was recently selected in 2009 as one of the five inductees for the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990 and named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998, Johnson claimed his only Daytona 500 win in 1960 driving for crew chief Ray Fox and owner John Masoni in a last-minute deal.

Retiring from driving in 1966, Johnson moved into ownership earning 139 victories and six championships.

More recently, Johnson has lent his celebrity to his own line of foodstuffs. Junior Johnson Brand Foods products include biscuits, morning rolls, sweet tea and lemonade.

Photo info: Junior Johnson before last year's Legends race at Bristol

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NASCAR and Politics - Let's Not Mix 'Em

There are few things in this world that get folks riled up more than politics.

That's why I wasn't overly thrilled with today's announcement that the senatorial campaign of Kendrick Meek will be the lead sponsor of Mike Wallace's No. 01 car in next week's Nationwide race.

While I'm sure candidate Meek is a great guy with a lot to offer my home state, I'd rather not watch a car emblazoned with his campaign logo circle the Speedway at Daytona. Like lots of race fans, I view NASCAR as an escape. I don't want politics mucking it up.

I'm completely non-partisan in my anti-pol leanings, by the way. I'd also prefer Sarah Palin to stay away from the Daytona 500. Again, I'm sure she's a lovely person, but who wants to be reminded of the longest Presidential campaign in history and all of the vitriol that characterized the 2008 race?

Not me.

And this includes the President. Although Las Vegas Motor Speedway has extended an invitation to President Obama to give the start command at this month's race - spurred by the President's recent publicized remarks about the city - such an event is something NASCAR nation could do without.

Am I grateful that Meek and Palin support NASCAR? Yes. Do I wish more folks would put money into sponsorship deals to keep the sport financially secure? You bet.

But let's leave the politics inside the beltway and keep it off the track.

Let's stick to racing.

Photo: Mike Wallace will pilot the No. 01 Chevy for J-D Motorsports at the Nationwide Series race at Daytona Feb. 13

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bechtel's Latest Book Captures What We Love About NASCAR

I was going to wait until I finished reading Mark Bechtel's new book before writing about it. But it's so darn good, I feel compelled to post about it now.

"He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back: The True Story of the Year the King, Jaws, Earnhardt, and the Rest of NASCAR's Feudin', Fightin' Good Ol' Boys Put Stock Car Racing on the Map" may have the longest title in publishing history. But don't let that put you off. Bechtel, a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, is a master at disguising dry details in engaging narrative.

It's a NASCAR history book that reads less like a piece of motorsports academia and more like a good yarn that your grandad might tell you while smoking a pipe in his easy chair.

It's genius, really.

From explaining the origins of The Alabama Gang to recounting Kyle Petty's honeymoon debut at Daytona, Bechtel is a sympathetic chronicler whose words balance a hearty respect for the sport with the blood-and-guts reality of how it all started.

Take this bit which contrasts Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough -

As odd a couple as Johnson and Allison were, Yarborough and Johnson seemed made for each other. Yarborough was, like Johnson, a strong, rugged outdoorsy type, a real man's man. Not that Allison was still a wimp. He had driven through some incredible injuries and never backed down from a fight. But he wasn't the kind of fella who would be the subject of a magazine profile detailing his nocturnal varmint-hunting habits, as Johnson later was in the summer of 1979, when Stock Car Racing ran a piece called "Coon Huntin With Jr. Johnson."

It's word pictures like this that connect the here-and-now to then then-and-gone. And after finishing certain passages in Bechtel's book, I felt like I had shaken hands with Junior Johnson, watched Bobby Allison build an engine and thrown a punch during in an infield melee.

Great stuff. And race fans should read it.