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Changing Lanes / Bradshaw backs Kerry Earnhardt

Daytona Beach, Fla. - Terry Bradshaw is haunted by a memory

that should be one of the fondest of his long life in sports. The day he was

driven around Daytona International Speedway by Dale Earnhardt was something

Bradshaw, a NASCAR fan and now a team owner, knew he'd cherish for the rest of

his life.

"Dale was taking me through turn 1, turn 2, turn 3 and turn 4, describing

what you want to do in the race car Sunday in the 500," Bradshaw said

yesterday. "It was pretty incredible."

Bradshaw, a Hall of Fame quarterback who won four Super Bowls in the 1970s,

speaks sadly of those thrilling moments. It happened a year ago this week, the

day before Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the Daytona 500. Bradshaw,

the last person to ride with Earnhardt, also lives with memories of a chilling

embrace on the morning of the Intimidator's final race. "You've got to listen,

because God will speak to you sometimes," said Bradshaw, recalling how

Earnhardt hugged him before driver introductions. "Dale Earnhardt grabbed me

last year behind my ears, forehead to forehead, and said, 'I'm so glad you're

here. You're my good-luck charm. I love you, man.'"

Earnhardt, the most influential NASCAR driver of the modern era, was dead

four hours later. Bradshaw carries that memory with him this weekend into a

partnership with Earnhardt's oldest son, Kerry, who will race tomorrow for the

Busch team co-owned by Bradshaw and Armando Fitz.

"He said to meet Dad was the biggest thing he's done outside of his Super

Bowls," said Kerry Earnhardt, 32. "You don't realize how much Dad meant to

people until you hear it or see it."

The Bradshaw-Earnhardt team debuts in one of the undercard events for

Sunday's Daytona 500. Earnhardt will start 27th in the 36-car field. The goal

is to move up to the top-flight Winston Cup series next year with Earnhardt's

half-brother, Dale Jr. "We're getting a lot of interest and we've done nothing

to deserve it," Bradshaw said. "It's just based on name only."

Yesterday, Bradshaw announced long-distance company 10-10-220 as a primary

sponsor. The team has sponsorship to run 25 races so far. Bradshaw learned

quickly that racing costs a lot more than a buck or two. "I'm not blown away by

the amount of money," said Bradshaw, who won't reveal how much he invested.

"I'm blown away by how hard it is to get that amount of money."

After making a handshake agreement to join Fitz last year, Bradshaw

attended about half the races on the Busch circuit, which is a feeder league

for NASCAR's top series, Winston Cup. He consulted several people before his

decision, such as former Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who left football

and built one of the elite stock-car organizations with drivers Tony Stewart

and Bobby Labonte.

"I wanted to work," Bradshaw said. "I needed the rush. Being a football

player all my life, one day a week, you get a pretty good rush. And you miss

it. You go through the tunnel and come into the track, that jacks me up."

This unlikely union has three distinct factors working in its favor. The

Bradshaw name is recognizable to mainstream sports fans, and there's the

Earnhardt lineage ("That's good breeding," Bradshaw said). Perhaps most

important is the handiwork of Dale Earnhardt Inc., which will build the cars.

"You have to be realistic, and I certainly am," Bradshaw said. "You crawl, you

walk, you trot, you gallop and then you go. Hopefully, that's what happens

here."

When Kerry Earnhardt fires up his engine tomorrow, Bradshaw surely will

remember that embrace with Dale Sr. It's going to be pretty hard to forget.

"It was one athlete to another," Bradshaw said. "It was cool that he

respected me, and it blew me away that he was such a huge fan. When he came up

and did that, when he hugged me, man, it touched me."

Sunday

Daytona 500

12:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 4

Radio: WSNR (620)

New York Sports