Junior, Spurrier strike up rapport

Published September 7, 2006

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Turns out two of the most popular sports names in South Carolina are friends, as well.

South Carolina and former Florida football coach Steve Spurrier has become a big fan of NASCAR Nextel Cup star Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Junior has become a huge Gamecocks fan.

The two got together Tuesday night when Spurrier took time from preparing for his team's game Saturday against No. 12 Georgia to be a guest on Earnhardt's satellite radio show.

"I'm a big fan of Steve's and pretty much the Gamecocks," Earnhardt said.

Spurrier wasn't always much of a race fan. But after former South Carolina athletic spokesman Kerry Tharp took a job with NASCAR in 2005, Tharp asked Spurrier if he wanted to visit the Nextel Cup race at Daytona International Speedway, the Pepsi 400, in July of that year.

"I'd like to meet Dale Jr.," Tharp remembered the coach saying.

The two hit it off immediately, though neither had to do much work to connect.

Earnhardt said he had always admired Spurrier and was gleeful when the coach left Florida to coach Earnhardt's favorite NFL team, the Washington Redskins.

"If I had researched the situation," Spurrier told Earnhardt, "I might've gone to a different (NFL) team. But I did like everybody else, I went with the guy who gave me the most money."

Taping for the radio show, to be aired at a later date, was packed at the Wild Wing Cafe northeast of campus, split between those wearing Gamecock caps and shirts and those with Earnhardt's No. 8 or racing logos.

Fans cheered Junior's entrance, then yelled even louder for Spurrier. Earnhardt wore a Carolina cap. "How y'all like that hat Dale's got on?" Spurrier shouted and the fans screamed again.

The two have sent knickknacks to each other, too. Earnhardt gave Spurrier one of his racing helmets, while Spurrier gave Earnhardt a South Carolina football helmet.

Spurrier also was at the Daytona 500 and the Pepsi 400 in Daytona again this year.

Tharp said Earnhardt wanted Spurrier on his weekly radio show, Unrestricted, which is broadcast on XM Radio. So Earnhardt's people spoke with Tharp at Bristol Motor Speedway last month and Tharp called Spurrier, who agreed to appear only if the taping could be held later in the evening after he finished football duties.

Tharp says Junior follows South Carolina games when possible on the Internet. "He's become quite a fan," Tharp said.

One of the things Spurrier says he enjoyed the most about racing the was the reliance on teams.

"When drivers win a big race, they all start hugging their crew members," Spurrier said.

Earnhardt asked Spurrier if there were any other Nextel Cup drivers he pulled for. Spurrier said his youngest son, Scotty, likes Jeff Gordon, bringing several boos from the crowd. "I think his girlfriend makes him," the coach said.

"I guess that's the way it goes sometimes," Earnhardt said.

Paper: Seven-time champ M. Schumacher retiring

FRANKFURT, Germany - Seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher will announce his retirement Sunday at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, the Associated Press reported, citing a story in German newspaper Bild.

"We can't comment on everything," said Schumacher's spokeswoman, Sabine Kehm. "As we said, there will be more on Sunday."

Schumacher's manager, Willi Weber, was quoted as telling Bild, "We won't have anything to say before Sunday."

The German driver, who holds every major record in Formula One, has said before that he would announce a decision on his future at the Monza race.

Speculation has been growing in the German media in recent weeks that Schumacher would retire when his contract with Ferrari expires at the end of the season, which has four races remaining.

Schumacher trails defending series champion Fernando Alonso by 12 points before the last four events.