- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Jim Stewart is an average racing fan from Louisiana, but he will see his attachment to NASCAR hit top gear Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.

After winning a promotional contest tied to Crown Royal whiskey, Stewart’s name will be emblazoned all over the track after becoming the first fan awarded the official naming rights of a major sporting event, the Jim Stewart 400.

Technically, the full name of the Richmond Nextel Cup series race is the Crown Royal Presents the Jim Stewart 400 — the main sponsor’s name needs to be in there somewhere, after all. But the name “Jim Stewart” will appear on major signage all over the raceway, on the infield grass and on nearly all promotional materials. And Stewart will be present at the race, attending a drivers meeting, commanding drivers to start their engines and waving the green flag.

“I thought I wouldn’t even have a chance to win, but I did think of how awesome it would be,” said Stewart, a father of two who owns a pipeline manufacturing company in Houma, La. “Nobody has ever had this kind of opportunity at a sporting event. This is something normal race fans don’t get to do unless they win this kind of contest.”

To find the fan worthy of such a unique position on race day, Crown Royal asked for written essays and videos of race fans discussing a moment they deemed worthy of a toast with the Canadian whiskey.

Stewart, 34, was one of nine finalists selected out of more than 15,000 entries. He beat out the other eight finalists through a random drawing.

In Stewart’s winning video, he spoke of fishing with his father on a boat in the Gulf of Mexico. He went so far as to paint the vessel in Crown Royal’s purple and red color scheme and use the whiskey instead of champagne to christen the boat.

Other finalists included an Iraq war veteran who told of collecting old shoes to give to Iraqi children and a man who survived a plane crash in an alligator-infested lake.

Stewart spent this weekend atop a mobile home watching the Nextel Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway, the one race he attends in person every year. This week he will embark on a two-day media tour in New York City, then travel to Richmond for radio and television interviews and a press conference with Crown-sponsored driver Jamie McMurray. He also will watch the race from a VIP suite and present the trophy and ceremonial check to the winner.

“We wanted to do something that not only made Jim Stewart feel like he was king of his world but also something that was very grand and historic,” said Dan Sanborn, senior director of sports marketing communications for Diageo, Crown Royal’s parent company. “For a race fan, what better thing to have happen than to have a race named after you?”

Crown Royal said that as part of the Richmond promotion, it will donate $50,000 to a charity against drunken driving.

Stewart won the contest in February at the Daytona 500. Up to that point, the race was simply dubbed the “Your Name Here” 400. Entries to be the title sponsor for the “Your Name Here” 400 in 2008 are being accepted now through November.

“We were blown away by this idea because it’s so unique not only in racing but in all of sports,” said Matthew Becherer, senior director of marketing and sales at Richmond.

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