IF YOU GO
The Best of Preps banquet is set for May 29 at 6:30 p.m. at the Chattanooga Convention Center, and tickets cost $50 through www.timesfreepress.com/bop. Tables of eight in proximity to the speaker can be reserved for $400. All athletes who were named to BOP teams this school year will receive free admission, and they will not have assigned seating. The deadline to buy tickets is May 26, unless the event sells out before that. For more information call Lyndsi Lane at 423-757-6498.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of the most iconic sports figures in America, will be the featured speaker at this year's Times Free Press Best of Preps banquet.
The two-time Daytona 500 champion and current Sprint Cup Series points leader will help honor the area's top athletes and coaches at the May 29 event. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for the 6:30 dinner.
"This will be my first time in Chattanooga, so I'm looking forward to it," Earnhardt said. "It's an honor to be invited to the Best of Preps banquet and recognize the area student-athletes and coaches for what they've accomplished. This event is about them. It's about what they've achieved in their respective sports, and it'll be rewarding for me to be on hand to congratulate them."
Earnhardt has been named NASCAR's most popular driver a record 11 consecutive years and routinely appears in the annual Harris Interactive poll of the nation's most popular athletes, joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter and Kobe Bryant.
Driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet, Earnhardt began this season with the second Daytona 500 victory of his career, which was his 20th all-time Sprint Cup series win. He has finished in the top five in four of this season's six races, including Sunday's third-place finish in the STP 500 at Martinsville, Va., to take over the series points lead.
"We are excited to bring a motorsports icon of his magnitude to our community," Times Free Press President and General Manager Jason Taylor said. "Many readers in our 18-county readership area have been asking for this for years. He has a powerful story of success, tragedy, sportsmanship and character."
With a rare crossover appeal, Earnhardt has appeared on more than 150 magazine covers and has been featured in high-profile publications such as Rolling Stone, GQ, Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated and People magazine. Last month he was a guest on "Late Night with David Letterman" and was the Sports Illustrated cover feature for the third time. He has also been a guest on "60 Minutes," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" as well as "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America" and has played cameo roles in major motion pictures "Talladega Nights" and "Cars."
In 2012, Forbes magazine ranked Earnhardt seventh overall in its list of "Most Influential Athletes," and he has an estimated net worth of more than $300 million.
"I know there are a lot of NASCAR fans in Chattanooga, because they are right in the heart of Talladega, Atlanta and Bristol," Earnhardt said. "Five of our 36 races are in that region. Chattanooga also has some NASCAR history because the Grand National Series used to race there in the 60s. It's a hotbed area for racing."
An avid sports fan, Earnhardt is a particularly passionate Washington Redskins fan and has been known to have game scores relayed to him during races.
"During the race season, if I'm under caution, I'm getting stats and numbers told to me over the radio during the race," Earnhardt said. "I've got to know. I can't concentrate on what I'm doing if I don't know what the Redskins are doing."
Earnhardt said he once dreamed of playing football for the Redskins but admits he wasn't built for the sport, adding, "I was 5-foot-3 when I got my driver's license at the age of 16, so I wasn't going to make much of a football player."
The third-generation NASCAR driver in 2007 launched The Dale Jr. Foundation, which is dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals, with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence and education. He also is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which recognizes him as one of only a handful of athletes who has facilitated more than 200 "wishes" for kids battling terminal or life-threatening illnesses.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...