Originally created 05/16/03

Governor makes May "Motorsports Month" in North Carolina



CONCORD, N.C. -- Gov. Mike Easley declared May "Motorsports Month in North Carolina" on Thursday, another gimmick in the state's campaign to keep NASCAR from moving its annual all-star race.

The Winston has been held at Lowe's Motor Speedway 16 straight years, and all but once in event history. But NASCAR has been toying with the idea of rotating the non-points race to other venues.

So city and business leaders launched a $650,000 campaign this spring aimed at convincing NASCAR the event should stay where it is.

Easley has been active at the track the past week: He crashed one of Jimmie Johnson's race cars last Friday while turning laps for charity, and he'll be back to drive some more laps before Saturday night's race.

"Racing is part of our heritage, culture and community," said Easley, who also commissioned a statewide study to determine how much money racing brings into North Carolina. "That's why this is motorsports month, to recognize our state as the motorsports capital of the world."

The Charlotte area has long been considered the unofficial hub of NASCAR. Although the sanctioning body is governed in Daytona Beach, Fla., more than 90 percent of the teams work out of North Carolina shops and most of the drivers live in the area.

"North Carolina truly is NASCAR country, that's why I moved here from Indiana in 1990," four-time Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon said. "I knew this is where you have to be if you want to make it in NASCAR because this is the heart of it."

But NASCAR has spent the past two seasons considering moving the race to other tracks to create a true all-star atmosphere.

Lowe's got a short reprieve last season when series sponsor R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. gave the track a one-year contract extension. That gave officials enough time to work on their campaign to keep the race in Charlotte.

They created The Winston All-Star Team, a group of Charlotte and Concord business leaders, and dubbed their campaign "There's No Place Like Home."

They threw a luncheon downtown on Wednesday and closed a city block to line up the race cars of all the drivers eligible for The Winston. Hundreds of fans crowded around the cars, and business people came out of their offices to see what was going on.

There are concerts all weekend, a fashion show by the Women of NASCAR, an inaugural Craftsman Truck Series race, and The Winston Homecoming - a picnic and concert for NASCAR team members and their families.

Few teams want the race moved because of their grueling travel schedule of 36 races. Because the Coca-Cola 600 is held next week, teams don't have to travel for two straight weekends as long as The Winston is held at Lowe's.

"Keeping the race here really gives our people a chance with their kids to come out to the big event," car owner Rick Hendrick said. "It's a great thing for families and they really enjoy this time at home."