SBJ/19980525/This Week's Issue

McGwire goes from fastballs to fast cars

Add the back of Bobby Hillin's race car to the growing list of places you can check for an up-to-date count of Mark McGwire's home run total.

McGwire joined the stock car world last week when he bought a share in Hillin's Busch circuit race team, paying $50,000 for an equal piece of the car, which is shared by Hillin and five other Major League Baseball players: Gary Gaetti, Andy Benes, Danny Sheaffer, Hal Morris and Pete Schourek.

McGwire also agreed to let the race team plaster his name across the car's rear deck lid, along with a home run counter that will be updated each time McGwire goes deep. Nabisco will sponsor that portion of the car, calling it the Nabisco Mac Attack.

The team hopes McGwire's name and the counter will generate exposure for the car, attracting other sponsors and coaxing Nabisco to increase its stake. Hillin lacks a primary sponsor and won't be able to race much longer without one.

"If having my name on it and me being a part of the team puts a little extra juice into things, that's great,'' said McGwire, whose chase of Roger Maris' single-season home run record has monopolized baseball talk thus far this season. "I don't need the exposure. I just wanted to help these guys out."

Gaetti, Benes and Sheaffer founded the partnership with Hillin in October. Morris and Schourek joined soon after. The players quickly became rabid fans, phoning racetracks from dugout phones during batting practice to check on the car's qualifying times.

Gaetti tried to use the tie to baseball to attract sponsors during the winter but ended up striking out.

"I made a lot of phone calls, trying to sell the idea of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet,'' Gaetti said. "I'd think that would generate a lot of interest, but when it comes down to talking money, it doesn't happen.

"It's all about opening doors. With Mark being the modern-day Babe Ruth, I think adding him may do that."

McGwire admitted that he is a racing novice. Because the baseball season runs into October, he won't get to see his investment at work firsthand until the homestretch of the NASCAR Busch schedule.

"It's all totally new to me,'' McGwire said. "But I guarantee you that, the way I like to drive, it'll probably take me about two minutes to get hooked on it. I've always had an interest in driving fast."

Lest you think that this is an indication McGwire is prepared to turn the quest for 61 into a marketing smorgasbord, he insists this tie-in is a unique one. Don't expect to see McGwire appearing in national campaigns based on the chase. He says he doesn't have the time, or the desire, to cut the commercials.

"I'm not going to do anything that gets in the way,'' McGwire said. "I've turned down a lot of money before, left a lot of dollars on the table. This is not benefiting Mark McGwire. I'm just going to be sitting back and watching everything."

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