NEW YORK (Dec. 5, 2002) -- Thursday was a day for NASCAR Winston Cup champions -- past and present -- to be honored.
Tony Stewart, the 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup champion, was joined by crew chief Greg Zipadelli and No. 20 Home Depot team owner Joe Gibbs, at the annual "Champion's Week" NASCAR media luncheon in the Waldorf=Astoria Grand Ballroom.
And while Stewart was the guest of honor, he shared the stage with some illustrious names -- Earnhardt and Petty.
Teresa Earnhardt, widow of the late Dale Earnhardt, announced the establishment of the Dale Earnhardt Legacy Program, designed to preserve the legacy of the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion. An official logo for the program -- a silhouette of Dale Earnhardt, arms raised, against the backdrop of a large "E" -- was unveiled.
Kyle Petty, son of NASCAR's other seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, Richard Petty, accepted the Buddy Shuman Award on his father's behalf.
The Earnhardt Legacy Program will include the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, which will target various charities he contributed to during his life. Also planned is the early-2003 launch of a new official Earnhardt website, www.daleearnhardtinc.com that will have up-to-date news about the foundation, plus photos, clips and statistics pertaining to "The Intimidator's" career.
The Buddy Shuman Award, a lifetime achievement type of honor, is named for the late Shuman, a NASCAR driver who died in a hotel fire in 1955. Jay Burkhart, vice president of marketing for Federal Mogul, presented the award.
Kyle Petty said the inclement weather hitting much of the nation this week kept his father back home in North Carolina. "You know 'The King'," Kyle said. "He's a man of few words, but here's what he did say: 'If it's gonna snow, I'd rather be snowed in at home, than in New York City."
Kyle then returned to the stage several minutes later to receive the True Value Person of the Year Award from Pamela Lieberman, president and CEO of True Serve Corporation. Petty, Jeff Gordon, Ken Schrader and Ricky Craven were the four nominees for the award, which recognizes drivers who have excelled in humanitarian efforts. Kyle earned high marks in that area, with his annual Kyle Petty Charity (motorcycle) Ride Across America, and the ongoing establishment of the Victory Junction Gang Camp for seriously ill children among his charitable venture.
Also, NASCAR President Mike Helton addressed the crowd of several hundred, saying, "NASCAR has truly become a sport for families."
"And that," Helton added, "is exactly what the France family envisioned when they founded NASCAR."
* What's on tap tomorrow for the champion... It will be a light day as Stewart prepares for Friday evening's coronation at the NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Ceremony. He will attend the Myers Brothers Breakfast that is hosted by the National Motorsports Press Association and Conoco Phillips. The remainder of the day will be used primarily for photo shoots. At 11 a.m. at the Waldorf=Astoria, Stewart will be part of a photo shoot that features the champions of all of NASCAR's racing divisions, including the touring and weekly series. Later in the day, he will be part of photo shoots of the championship team with a show car on Park Avenue as well as with family and team sponsors. Then it's off to the ceremony, where he will bask in the championship glow.
* All-star television cast... All the heads of NASCAR's television partners were on hand Thursday for a special press conference at the Waldorf=Astoria. In attendance was FOX Sports Television Group Chairman and CEO David Hill; NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol and NBC Sports President Ken Schanzer; Turner Sports President Mark Lazarus; FX Networks President and CEO Peter Liguori; Speed Channel President Jim Liberatore as well as NASCAR Broadcasting Vice President Paul Brooks. The group discussed its involvement with NASCAR and riding the crest of its success. They also discussed how well they work together on the NASCAR coverage despite being competing networks. "It's beneficial. We challenge each other and take things from each other," Schanzer said. "It's a healthy dynamic."
Added Hill: "The partnership has been fantastic. We have the highest praise for the team Ken has put together." The two networks' willingness to work together also has helped NASCAR in another area. "There is not any other sport that gets this type of promotion," Ebersol said. Some of the highlights from the conference: FOX debuted its NASCAR promo, an action-packed piece powered by Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Fire." FOX will televise next season's Daytona 500 and the network will have plenty in store for the fans. "We can't wait for Daytona," Hill said. "The biggest thing will be our [expanded] coverage of Speed Weeks. We've been working on this for six or seven months already." ... Schanzer said that NBC enjoyed a "spectacular year" with NASCAR. He also said ratings for the NASCAR events were up 13% and that two consecutive years of increases marked the "first back-to-back increases for a major sport since 1994-96 with the NBA and that was with Michael Jordan."
He also mentioned that seven of eight races that went head-to-head with the NFL drew a 4.0 rating or better and Sunday's pre-race show ranked second among Sunday pre-game shows. ... Lazarus of Turner Sports said the NASCAR coverage has resulted in new business over the past year, with 40 new sponsors coming aboard. He also praised the ratings and was impressed by the dedication of the NASCAR fans. Lazarus: "When a three-hour race has a rain delay and turns it into a seven-hour event, we don't lose our audience. July [the start of the NASCAR Winston Cup season for TNT] can't come fast enough for us." ... Liguori said that FX, in its third season of NASCAR coverage, has increased its overall viewership by 21 million homes since NASCAR came aboard and are nearing 80 million homes. Liguori: "NASCAR has had a major impact in growing our platform." FX will be the broadcaster of next season's Twin 125 races during Speed Weeks at Daytona International Speedway. ... Liberatore said that SPEED Channel plans to expand its coverage of the NASCAR Busch Series, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and several of NASCAR's touring series. SPEED also is planning its most comprehensive coverage of Speed Weeks, roughly 70 hours worth of coverage. Liberatore said SPEED has seen an increase of 23 million homes, including nine million last year.
* Winter Wonderland... A snowstorm could not put a damper on Thursday's photo shoot in Times Square featuring Stewart, team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli with the No. 20 Home Depot show car. Hundreds of fans also braved the weather as well to get a glimpse of the new champion. "It was one of the best things this week," Stewart said. "Growing up as a kid in Indiana, I got to play in the snow and I got a chance to play in the snow today."
* Stock in the new champion... Stewart had the opportunity Thursday to visit the New York Stock Exchange and ring the closing bell for the day's stock-market activity.
NASCAR Winston Cup Series Awards Ceremony.
Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center, New York City.
8-10:30 p.m. ET, Friday, Dec. 6.
TV: TNT (live).
Radio: MRN, XM Satellite.