Gift ideas abound for racing fans

Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2002

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Pam Harris thought the gift shop at Atlanta Motor Speedway had everything to satisfy the most ardent race fan. She was wrong.

She's surrounded by enough racing souvenirs to fill thousands of Christmas stockings, but she's learned there are no boundaries when it comes to the toys some race fans really want, even if they don't exist.

Like Jeff Gordon toilet seat covers.

Or Rusty Wallace underwear.

Or a set of Mark Martin bed sheets.

Most racing collectible shops go to extremes to fulfill the whims of their fans. T-shirts, car flags and hats remain the staple of the industry generating about $70 million in sales last year but Christmas creates a new set of challenges for fans who are trying to find that special gift.

 

A Bill Elliott licence plate cover

The business doesn't have a Cabbage Patch Kid doll or a Tickle Me Elmo that one gift everyone wants. With 43 drivers, the demand is widespread. And so is the supply.

''We've got a little of everything,'' said Justin McClintic at Anthony's Victory Lane in Savannah, Ga. ''There doesn't seem to be one thing everyone wants. Of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart are real hot right now. They're the favorite drivers for this Christmas, but we're selling a little bit from everyone. It's been a good Christmas.''

There are silver and gold belt buckles from Gordon; hair scrunchies from Bill Elli ott; Dale Earnhardt baseballs, Kevin Har vick Christmas balls, Dale Jarrett bottle openers and Dale Earnhardt Jr. computer mouses.

At souvenir shops in North Carolina, you can find driver-endorsed dishes, cologne, bobblehead dolls, candles and die-cast cars.

The most unusual gift at the Atlanta Motor Speedway is a cast iron skillet with the raceway's logo stamped on the bottom. ''The biggest thing we've been selling are jackets,'' Harris said. ''That's the thing most people want this year. And anything with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s name on it. Junior, Junior, Junior, Junior.''

For those who want to take NASCAR to work, most collectible shops offer OSHA-approved hard hats painted like their favorite driver's race helmet.

''Our Viagra hard hat has been real popular,'' said David Price at Race Team Collectibles in Fayetteville, Ga. ''We'll leave it at that.''

Price has Christmas tree lights with drivers' numbers as bulbs. Nothing says happy holidays for a race fan like a tree full of Terry Labonte's lighted No. 5s.

The ever-changing nature of NASCAR can make some souvenirs a risky venture. Although Atlanta had a ban on Stewart's souvenirs because he's sponsored by The Home Depot, many of his trinkets have re-appeared in the gift shop.

Winning the championship is one reason for Stewart's popularity. The second is all of his shirts show a Pontiac, and his team is switching to Chevrolet next year. If the speedway doesn't unload the shirts and hats now, they're stuck with them.

Atlanta is part of the Speedway Motorsports Inc. group, which includes Lowe's Motor Speedway near Charlotte, N.C. Lowe's and The Home Depot are fierce competitors in the home improvement business, but all is fair amid the Christmas rush.

Including Jeff Gordon toilet seat covers if they really exist.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.



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