Fans hope nice guy Marlin finishes first

ON MOTOR SPORTS

August 25, 2002|By Sandra McKee

It might have been the biggest gathering of Marlin fans outside Florida - but these fans had gathered at the Frederick Keys Single-A baseball game to see not the Florida Marlins, but Sterling Marlin, the Winston Cup stock car racing series points leader.

This Marlin, from Columbia, Tenn., is involved in the closest points race in the sport's history. Before last weekend's race, seven drivers were within 150 points of the lead. That had never happened this late in a season.

But the fans standing in line for autographs were not just hopping on some bandwagon. Most of them were longtime fans of the 45-year-old driver who has emerged during the past two seasons as a serious title contender.

"Sterling is a good person who carries himself well and is a good role model for kids - young and old," said Roxie Crawford, who was in line with her husband, Todd, and their son, Hunter, 7.

Hunter had already been through the line once.

"See my shoe?" he said, lifting his foot with pride. "I've had my shoe signed by Sterling. I'm a Sterling Marlin fan."

Why?

"Because I am," Hunter said matter-of-factly, as he prepared to have his shirt, wristband, hat and other shoe signed if he could. "I just like him."

Most of the fans in Frederick, including Kim Kuhlman, a 25-year-old administrative assistant who had driven from Silver Spring, felt the same.

"There's just something about him," Kuhlman said. "He's a lot different from other superstars. He's really down to earth."

Marlin certainly doesn't seem like the everyday star athlete. He's an "Ah, shucks" kind of guy with a head of shaggy blond hair and a soft, friendly smile.

He has waited 26 years to get to this point, to the point where he is the man to beat. He has learned a few things along that long road.

After he had signed autographs on everything from shirts and model racecars to racing flags and body parts, and had thrown out the first pitch to get the game started, he said athletes need to understand fan value.

"You got to understand that if not for the fans, you wouldn't have a job," he said, his voice warbling in that melodious Tennessee drawl. "You've got to take care of people as much as you can."

That's what he was doing Wednesday night in Frederick while anticipating last night's race in Bristol, where five drivers were still within 150 points of him at race time.

"I'm not looking over my shoulder," Marlin said Wednesday.

But when asked, "Who's in second?" he knew.

"Mark Martin," he said and grinned.

Among the fans, Jerry Smith, who also identified himself as a Ravens fan, acknowledged that in his eight years of rooting for Marlin, he never thought he would see him vying for a championship.

And, he said, the fact is that the outcome of the points battle won't affect his loyalty.

"He's just a hell of a nice guy," Smith said. "That's why I root for him."

It was the majority opinion.

Hagerstown double

Rain, yes, rain caused the postponement of the previously scheduled United Dirt Track Racing Association Pro DirtCar Series race last month at Hagerstown Speedway. So, the Maryland Silver Cup Nationals have been rescheduled for Friday night.

Two qualifying heats were completed on the original race night. The program will pick up from there with the remaining two qualifying heats for the UDTRA late models, two consolations and the 50-lap, $10,000-to-win main event.

On Saturday, promoter Frank Plessinger will present the 17th annual Ronnie McBee/Ron Hays Memorial at 7 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. For information call 301-582-0640 or check out www.hagerstownspeedway.com.

Nuts and bolts

Three new graduates from the Dodge Motorsports Diversity Scholarship Program have earned full-time positions with three Dodge NASCAR race teams. Jason Flamer, 22, of Houston and Ramon Zambrano, 21, of Arlington, Va., will join Evernham Motorsports' No. 9 and No. 19 Dodge-sponsored Winston Cup Series teams. David Whippy, 21, of Mangilao, Guam, will join the Ultra Motorsports No. 2 Dodge Ram team in the Craftsman Truck Series.

The diversity program, in its second year, aims to attract, recruit and train minorities for positions within the automotive and motorsports industry.

"This program allows people to get the skills they need to work in racing," said Ray Evernham, the owner who has hired two of the students. "It's a huge step in making motor sports an industry where everyone has an opportunity to pursue the career they want."

This weekend's NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun concludes today. Gates open at 8 a.m. Eliminations for Comp Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp, Super Gas and Super Street classes begin at 9:30 a.m. For more information go to www.CecilCountyDragway.com or www.NHRA.com

Drivers Tom Kristensen and Ron Fellows continue to lead their American Le Mans Series points classes. Kristensen, the winner of three of the last four LMP 900 races, leads his teammate Rinaldo Capello by three points (165-162), while Fellows, who has won five of the past seven GTS races, has 183 points and leads his co-driver Johnny O'Connell by nine points.

Winston Cup driver Jerry Nadeau was the best man yesterday - at 15 different weddings on the front stretch of Bristol Motor Speedway. "Hey, it's a pretty special time for these people," Nadeau said before the ceremonies. "Obviously, this is something they are going to remember the rest of their lives - it might be something I remember the rest of my life, too."

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