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He has a million bucks riding on NASCAR race

January 31, 1999

Gordon fanBy BRENDAN KIRBY / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer




Ray Grimm is a die-hard Dale Earnhardt fan.

His wife loves Jeff Gordon, the NASCAR driver who has supplanted Earnhardt atop the auto racing world.

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It could be a recipe for a minor civil war, but when the green flag flies at next month's Daytona 500, Grimm will unabashedly, enthusiastically root for Gordon. The reason's simple: He's got $1 million riding on it, thanks to a tobacco company's contest.

"There is no conflict at this point. Jeff Gordon's my driver," he said.

Grimm, who lives on Hartle Road east of Hagerstown, is one of five people who have a shot to win $1 million in the Winston No Bull 5 contest. His name was randomly selected from among 55,000 entry forms.

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Grimm and his wife, Sharon, flew to Winston-Salem, N.C., Jan. 16 for the T. Wayne Robertson NASCAR Winston Cup Preview, the kickoff event of the Winston Cup season. They got to hobnob with the drivers, take pictures and collect autographs.

"It was a trip I'll never forget," Ray Grimm said. "They treat you like royalty."

Then the big moment: Grimm and the other four contestants drew a manila envelope with a number inside. Grimm, 46, got No. 1 and the right to make the first selection.

When he went out on stage, Grimm said he was faced with five booths hidden by curtains. He said he picked the fourth on a spur-of-the moment decision.

"When I opened the curtain, Jeff Gordon walked out and handed me a money bag and told me he was going to try to win me $1 million," he said.

Sharon Grimm became a NASCAR fan about five or six years ago, a few years after Ray Grimm developed an interest in the sport.

When she picked Gordon as her favorite driver, she could hardly have selected anyone with a more different style than her husband's favorite.

Earnhardt, with the nickname, "Intimidator," is the driver many racing fans love to hate. Gordon has won over many but turned off others with his super clean-cut image.

Sharon Grimm said she and her husband differ on the driver, but she added it's always in good fun.

"He tries to throw a lot of razzing sometimes," she said. "But then I can throw it right back because Earnhardt hasn't been doing real well lately."

And Sharon Grimm seems to revel in her husband's new situation.

"He's not going to have too much bad to say about Jeff at this point," she said.

Even if Gordon does not win, Grimm said he will have had the time of his life. He and his wife leave Feb. 13 for Daytona Beach, Fla.

They will get to watch a warmup race on Saturday and tour the garage and pit areas before the main event on Feb. 14.

Then he will be introduced with Gordon and will wear a "No Bull 5" T-shirt with Gordon's familiar No. 24 on the front.

"This is a big deal," said Chad Willis, a spokesman for RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises. "Nobody's going to be pulling for Jeff Gordon any harder than Ray Grimm."

And he'll be doing it from a choice spot on the infield near the winner's circle.

Grimm said he has attended many auto races before - but none like this.

From 1985 to 1997, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. sponsored a contest called the "Winston Million" which gave drivers a chance to win $1 million if they won three out of four selected races in a year.

Last year, for NASCAR's 50th anniversary, the company changed the format and created the Winston No Bull 5. Drivers have a chance to win $1 million for themselves and another million for a fan.

The top five finishers from each of five No Bull races the year before are eligible for the current year. For instance, Daytona's No Bull drivers - Gordon, Dale Jarrett, Terry Labonte, Jeremy Mayfield and Jimmy Spencer - were the top five drivers at last year's Winston 500 at Talladega.

This was also the first year R.J. Reynolds had contestants pick drivers for the upcoming race.

"This program is better because it's immediate," Willis said.

Grimm, who works for the state at night and does electrical work during the day, said he already has a few ideas about how he'd spend the million if Gordon wins.

He said he'd pay off his home mortgage and help out his family, which includes two daughters and two grandchildren.

Grimm said he hasn't decided yet whether he'd give up one of his jobs, though. He's a few years away from retirement eligibility at his state job and he said his day job is more fulfilling.

Grimm sent in a couple of entry forms last year that a co-worker gave him.

He was skeptical when a representative from R.J. Reynolds called the week before Christmas to tell him his name was drawn and did not allow himself to fully believe it until the paperwork arrived Christmas Eve, he said.

"That was a real neat Christmas present," he said.

Grimm has a pretty good chance at the cash if recent history is any guide. Gordon has won the Winston Cup title the last two years and took two of the three No Bull races that were won by eligible drivers last year.

If Gordon pulls it off this year, he can count Ray Grimm as a convert. Almost.

"I'll always be a Dale Earnhardt fan, but I guess I'd have to also convert to being a Jeff Gordon fan, too," he said.

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