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Entertainment News

Sunday, 1 March, 2009 12:15 PM

Country Meets NASCAR at Sprint Sound & Speed (CMA)

Photo by DavidBean.net

Gene Johnson of Diamond Rio, Danielle Peck, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Aaron Tippin field fan questions.

By Tim Ghianni
© 2009 CMA Close Up News Service

On Jan. 9 and 10, the fourth annual Sprint Sound & Speed Presented by SunTrust proved as much family reunion as festival, with fans and stars of Country Music and NASCAR gathered in the heart of Music City. In addition to providing world-class Country entertainment, this event is a fund raiser for two worthy causes: the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Victory Junction, which offers year-round camping experiences for children, 6-16, who suffer from chronic medical conditions or serious illness.

About 8,000 fans took part this year. And while the earnings for charity haven't been tallied, the previous three years drew a total of 40,000 fans and raised approximately $800,000. This success would be no surprise to the late Brian Williams, former Senior VP of SunTrust, whose belief that Country Music and NASCAR go together "like peanut butter and jelly" inspired him and artist manager Don Light to conceive this event.

A comment made by racing icon Richard Petty confirmed this kinship during the first gathering in 2006. During a question-and-answer session with his peer in Country Music, George Jones, Petty said of stock-car fans, "They listen to George getting to the race, and they watch the cars getting around the track and then they listen to George getting home from the race."

The Petty clan is a part of the event's backbone. Not only was Kyle Petty in attendance, but he and his wife Pattie founded Victory Junction in memory of their son Adam, who died in May 2000 during a practice run at the New Hampshire International Speedway.

A Friday night concert at the Sommet Center kicked the two-day event into honky-tonkin' overdrive. After opening sets by Rodney Atkins and Julianne Hough, headliners Montgomery Gentry fed off the crowd's energy and performed long into the night.

Saturday's action shifted a few blocks away to the Fan Festival at Nashville Municipal Auditorium, where folks lined up for autographs and photos with their favorites. Participants from the automotive world included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Ernie Irvan, Kyle Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Michael Waltrip as well as Sam Bass, American motorsports illustrator and painter.

Dierks Bentley, John Conlee, Diamond Rio, "Nashville Star" finalist Gabe Garcia, Randy Houser, Charlie Louvin, Richie McDonald, Danielle Peck, Crystal Shawanda, Connie Smith, Aaron Tippin and Josh Turner were among those representing Country.

Between munching on old-fashioned midway food, fans visited with the stars, enjoyed Q&A sessions and even indulged in a bit of interactive fantasy. One such attraction allowed participants to show their pit row mettle by being timed as they replaced race car wheels. They could also pose for pictures with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars that will be driven this season by Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart.

If that wasn't enough, fans could bid on items donated by the stars. Among the items being auctioned were a weekend at Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, a guitar signed by Big & Rich, another guitar signed by more than 30 drivers and Country artists and a variety of items donated and autographed by Greg Biffle, Brooks & Dunn, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sara Evans, Tony Stewart and Gretchen Wilson. And on the day when the Tennessee Titans were locked in a playoff battle with the Baltimore Ravens just across the Cumberland River, fans also bid on a helmet autographed by the home team's defensive end, Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Participating artists were impressed and excited by this year's event, particularly those who took part for the first time. "This was our first experience with Sound & Speed - what an awesome event," said Kate & Kacey, recently signed to Big Machine Records. "NASCAR fans and Country Music fans are one and the same, and it's fun to bring us all together for the Victory Junction and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum."

"Sound & Speed is the perfect opportunity to bring Country Music fans and NASCAR fans together to enjoy getting close to artists and drivers," added Arista Nashville artist Jason Michael Carroll. "It's also great to watch how the two naturally go hand in hand."

For HeadCoach Records artist Rick Huckaby, who made his first appearance this year at Sound & Speed in the autograph segment, the ties between Country and NASCAR are deep. "The word I keep coming back to is 'passion,'" he explained. "NASCAR fans are very passionate. They stick with their favorite drivers. They're loyal, which is very much like Country Music fans - the greatest fans in the world."

As for Steve Buchanan, Chairman of the Board for Sprint Sound & Speed and Senior VP, Media & Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment, the result of this event is "to bring artists and drivers together to interact and further relationships between these two worlds. Loyalties develop, and from a fan perspective there are expectations that these people are your neighbors."

Someplace in the arena, the spirit of the late, great Marty Robbins was smiling. After all, he lived the connection between Country Music and auto racing by being equally at home behind the wheel of a stock car as he was out in the West Texas town of El Paso.

 

Photo by DavidBean.net

Danielle Peck and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sign autographs.

 

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