Michael Waltrip in Rockford July 8

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//img-F0aWAjArg6.jpg’, ‘Photo courtesy of www.nascar.com’, ‘Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip returns to the Rockford Speedway Thursday, July 8.’);

All 200 of the $100 Meet & Greet tickets for Michael Waltrip’s appearance at Rockford Speedway Thursday, July 8, have been sold.

But plenty of the $20 general admission reserved seat tickets for the 7:07 p.m. racing program of NASCAR late models, American Short Trackers and roadrunners still are available by calling (815) 633-1500 or going to www.tix.com. Buy 10 or more at a time and the price is reduced to $18 each.

The entire program, called “Rac’n for Kids,” is a fund-raiser for Easter Seals Children’s Development Center serving northwest Illinois. Track CEO Jody Deery said the gate will go to Easter Seals. “We’ve had fund-raisers before, but this will probably be one of the largest we will have,” she said. “This has the chance to be the largest fund-raiser we have ever done,” said Steve Guedet of Easter Seals.

Waltrip, two-time Daytona 500 winner, won’t race, but will be at the track to drop the green flag on the first race and do some commentary on the opening races. His NAPA show car and hauler will be on display. He will be racing at Chicagoland Speedway, Joliet, July 9-11.

One of the prize giveaways will be a ride around the track with Waltrip in a Corvette convertible being raffled off in the Century 21 Country North Easter Seals Car Raffle. Top prize will be a $5,000 travel voucher for a destination of choice. Other prizes will be a NAPA/Waltrip battery-powered replica car and two tickets and pit passes for a NASCAR race. Chances for the track prizes will be included with tickets.

NAPA is Waltrip’s NASCAR Nextel Cup sponsor and NAPA Auto Parts locally will be presenting sponsor of the event. Joe Hansberry’s Motor Parts & Equipment Corp., which owns 12 NAPA stores in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, will play a key role. Waltrip makes only 12 such appearances a year.

Waltrip, who has been to Rockford Speedway before, is an avid runner who has finished three 26.2-mile marathons. “When I started racing, I wasn’t that concerned with physical fitness,” Waltrip told an interviewer. “I didn’t think anything about it. Just as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided that I wanted to have the mental edge that knowing that it didn’t matter how hot it was or how long the race was, they might outrun me, but they weren’t going to outlast me.”

The younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion and Fox Sports TV personality Darrell Waltrip, Michael, 41, has a best marathon time of 4 hours, 10 minutes, 11 minutes slower than his goal of 3:59.

When he started running and training for marathons, the 6-foot-5 Waltrip weighed 230 pounds. He’s now down to 200 pounds and has more energy than ever before.

“I worked hard training for the marathons and preparing to do my physical fitness routine,” Waltrip said. “The whole time I was doing it, the only thing I would think about was being a better race car driver.

“I think when people saw my commitment to physical fitness and how that applies to the race car, it certainly made people understand my commitment to the sport in general. I’m not here goofing off. I’m here to be the best I can be.”

Not only does he drive the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet in Nextel Cup for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., he also owns and drives his own No. 99 Aaron’s Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series, and has made a spot appearance in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. That’s more than 70 races.

He has to be in shape for that kind of racing schedule.

Waltrip plans to run the Las Vegas Marathon in January in an effort to raise $1 million for Victory Junction Gang Camp.

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