Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Celebrities come out to watch the big race


DAYTONA BEACH -- A lot of the celebrities at Sunday's 50th running of the Daytona 500 wouldn't say who they were rooting for. Nick Lachey had no such qualms.

"Jimmie Johnson, of course," said the former lead singer for 98 Degrees (and more famously, the ex-husband of Jessica Simpson). "He's definitely going to win; he's my man."

On his way out of the driver's meeting, and before he headed off to meet his friend Johnson, Lachey talked for a minute about his first Daytona experience.

"I've been to a handful of races, but this is definitely the most exciting," Lachey said. "The atmosphere and the people, it's just awesome."

A few feet away from Lachey, an unimposing-looking Joey Galloway was holding court.

Galloway, now a leading wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he'd been meaning to come here for three years.

"I've been a fan for a while but I just never made it to a race," Galloway said. "But I've gotten to talk to a few of the guys today, and I'm looking to see a great race."

Asked who he's rooting for, Galloway juggled the question as if it was a poorly thrown spiral from his quarterback.

"I don't know; I think I'm going to wait until the race starts and see what moves me," Galloway said.

Galloway and Lachey were but two of the bevy of celebrities on hand for the historic race.

Earlier in the day, country singing star Trisha Yearwood, on hand to sing the national anthem, said she had a cure for her nerves.

"Junior Johnson gave me some great alcohol, so I think I'll be OK," Yearwood said, drawing laughs from the media. "I've done some big events before, like the World Series, and the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics.

"But this is definitely the biggest thing I've ever done."

Yearwood said she and husband Garth Brooks had become friends with Tony Stewart, even helping create a new superstition.

"He came over one day before a race last year and we had leftover lasagna and chicken salad," Yearwood said. "And he won the race, so now if he comes over we've got to have that again."

Besides Yearwood and Lachey, the biggest celebrity entertainer may have been Chubby Checker. The 66-year-old singer most famous for teaching 1950s America to do The Twist marveled at the popularity of his music to this day.

"We never thought back in 1959 that people would still be dancing today," Checker said.

1970s R&B group Kool and the Gang were also on hand for their first 500, along with country duo Brooks & Dunn.

"We hear that Earnhardt Jr. has turned his hat around and is a rock and roll guy now," Ronnie Dunn said. "We might need to go down to the garage and straighten him out."