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Fans give up Daytona picks

February 21, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE and MARLO BARNHART

TRI-STATE

julieg@herald-mail.com

marlob@herald-mail.com

No. 8, No. 24 and No. 20.

Tri-State area residents were making their picks on Saturday, not for bingo but for who will win today's Daytona 500 - an entirely different kind of gamble.

Asked which driver they favored, residents often answered Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart.

No one mentioned pole sitter Dale Jarrett and one person picked a driver who isn't racing today - because he's retired.

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"Dale Earnhardt Jr., 'cause I liked his dad and I've been racing all my life," said Alex Garvin, 35, of Hagerstown. Garvin races in demolition derbies.

Harold Custer said he expects Jeff Gordon to win because of his top performance over the years.

"He has been racing very well," said the 58-year-old resident of Martinsburg, W.Va.

"I think Dale Jr. 'Cause he's my favorite," said Tina Guessford, 33, of Hagerstown. "His car's a little slower, but I think he'll do it."

When asked who he thought would win, Tom Myers indicated his hat, which featured "The Home Depot" sponsor on the front and "20" on back.

"I've been a Tony Stewart fan since his rookie year and I go to a lot of races," said Myers, 62, of Hagerstown. "And I like an aggressive driver and he's definitely aggressive, but he's no Kevin Harvick."

Harvick caused a stir Thursday when he was the central figure in a wreck during a qualifying race for today's race. The wreck took out five drivers, including Harvick.

"Jeff Gordon. No. 24. DuPont car," said Kathy Cauffman, pulling a Boyds Bear ornament dressed in Gordon's uniform scheme out of a bag at Valley Mall.

"I've been a Jeff Gordon fan since 1992, when he came on the circuit," said Cauffman, 35, of Clear Spring.

When asked why she picked Gordon, Cauffman said, "Loyalty. He's a good driver. He's awesome."

A longtime fan of the late Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dave Pannuty now is closely following the career of the legendary driver's son, Dale Jr.

"Once a fan, always a fan," said Pannuty, 46, of Martinsburg. "You have to be loyal or you're not a fan!"

Loyalty wasn't the only reason for people's selections.

"Tony Stewart - No. 20 - is going to win," said Lisa Jenkins, 35, of Martinsburg. "Why? Because he is so cute. I just want him to win."

"Jeff Burton. No. 31," said Lisa Rietmann, 38, of Greencastle, Pa.

Rietmann was very enthusiastic about Burton, whom her employer, Cingular, is sponsoring.

"I'm a new NASCAR fan this year. This week. I started today (because of work)," Rietmann said.

Pepsi fan Michael Rodgers, 21, of Hagerstown, picked Jeff Gordon. "'Cause he likes Pepsi," Rodgers said.

"I'm gonna go with Darrell Waltrip just because I saw the Pringles commercial today," said Charlene Kane, 24, of Hagerstown. Waltrip was in the commercial, but retired from racing several years ago. His brother, Michael, is racing today.

Twins Ben and David Hayes, 7, of Martinsburg both picked Jeff Gordon.

"My dad likes him a lot, so we watch him a lot," Ben said.

"Sometimes when we watch him, he wins," David said.

Sherry Schlotterbeck, 37, couldn't pick just one driver.

"Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart. That's who I like. I like them both," said Schlotterbeck, who's moving from Hagerstown to Williamsport. "Jeff Gordon's won a lot and Tony ... I like his attitude,"

And one Jeff Gordon fan said what many Gordon fans might find unthinkable.

"Earnhardt Jr. Just 'cause he wins a lot," said Gordon fan T.J. Socks, 14, of Hagerstown.

Matthew Hammond, 11, of Hagerstown, picked Tony Stewart because "he races fair."

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. He looked good in the practice round," said Nathaniel Naylor, 21, of Hagerstown. "He just (switched crews), but he said he's going to pull it out this year."

"Jeff Gordon. He seems to be running the one (that's doing well) so far with restrictor plates," said Joel Shank, 36, of Waynesboro, Pa. Gordon, with Hendrick Motorsports, made up a lot of ground on the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Incorporated) cars driven by Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip, he said.

"Probably Jeff Gordon. He's due," said Fred Fisher, 37, of Smithsburg.

Jason Reckley, 21, of Martinsburg, said while he isn't a big NASCAR fan, a lot of his friends are - including some who traveled to Florida for the big event.

"If I had to say who I'd like to win, it would be Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Reckley said.

Chad Bowling was in full agreement, but his zeal was a little more apparent.

"It's going to be Dale Earnhardt Jr., of course," said the 28-year-old Martinsburg resident.

Not everyone in Florida will be heading to the race today.

Residents of Jacksonville, Fla., Marcus and Alma Ballard were at Martinsburg Mall on Saturday for a weekend wedding in the Eastern Panhandle. They won't be anywhere near Daytona Beach on race day, but each had a favorite they plan to root for.

"Mark Martin is my choice," said Alma Ballard, 46. "I like his personality and because he is older - there is more tradition."

This will be Martin's last Daytona 500. He's retiring after the season.

Ballard's husband, Marcus, 43, is a Dale Earnhardt Jr. supporter. "I think he will win because he and Michael Waltrip are a strong team."

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