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Saturday, May 10, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tammy Jo Kirk Won't Dim Her Lights -- First Woman In Truck Series Breaks Ground

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

MONROE - In the corporate world of big-time motorsports, the pursuit of sponsorships has had few limits.

Along with the logos for oil companies, battery manufacturers and auto-parts dealers, racing fans have been exposed to a variety of products seemingly on the fringe, such as detergent and lunch meat.

Women's underwear, however, had been a market untapped.

Until now.

Along with becoming the first woman to race on the three-year-old NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series circuit, Tammy Jo Kirk has broken a sponsorship barrier by aligning her racing team with Lovable Inc., the Georgia-based manufacturer of bras.

"Find Comfort In Our Bras" is the slogan viewers at Evergreen Speedway or watching on television will read on Kirk's Ford truck during this afternoon's NAPACARD 200 on the .646-mile oval.

The Kirk-Lovable alliance is as imaginative as the way it came about little more than a year ago, when Kirk was driving a stock car on the NASCAR All Pro Series.

Needing a sponsor, Kirk invested in an in-car camera for a televised race. What the camera picked up in addition to race action was a message on the dashboard that the space was available for a sponsor.

Kirk said Lovable executives were thinking about sponsoring a car with a female driver. When they saw Kirk's televised message, wheels, so to speak, began to turn.

"They called me up Monday morning," Kirk said. "By Friday, we signed a deal."

It is a deal that was extended and expanded this year for the truck series. Lovable's investment in Kirk's Ford truck is believed to be more than $1 million for the 26-race series.

"They want product notoriety," Kirk said. "All 26 races are televised. They're going to get a lot of exposure."

And as Kirk keeps improving, the exposure is sure to increase.

After five races, Kirk is 18th in the point standings.

Her best finish was a 12th on the one-mile oval at Phoenix; her best performance might have been last Saturday at Portland Speedway, where she qualified third fastest and was running third with 23 laps left. An accident relegated her to 14th.

"She just gets in there and races," rival Chuck Bown said. "You don't know if it's a male or a female driving the truck when it's out there running. In other words, she does a good job."

Kirk said she feels accepted.

"It's been pretty good," Kirk said. "The truck-series guys have all pretty much come from where I came from. All the guys have raced women before and they've accepted it really well. They'll race with me side by side.

"I've been trying to earn their respect from the first race . . . let them know that I'll stay in my line and not be moving around. Any rookie has to do that."

Kirk, 35, who owns a motorcycle shop in her hometown of Dalton, Ga., began racing motorcycles at age 9. She progressed to the American Motorcyclist Association Grand National dirt-track series.

Her father, Tommy Joe Kirk, a former motorcycle racer, was Tammy's mentor. Her mother, Doris, has been an enthusiastic supporter.

"She's never held me back one bit," Tammy said of her mother. "I've got two sisters, so I guess she got them and my dad got me."

In 1989, Kirk switched from motorcycles to stock cars. Lovable, in concert with Winston Cup driver Geoff Bodine, helped Kirk get involved with the truck series. Bodine owns Kirk's Charlotte-based car.

Goals? "I would love to finish in the top 10 in points," Kirk said. "We would love to win a race, and I think we can do that before the year is out. We've got good equipment, a good team and a good sponsor.

"I don't see why we can't."

Petty to attend

Richard Petty, the "King" of stock-car racing, is scheduled to be at Evergreen Speedway today to watch Jimmy Hensley of Ridgeway, Va., drive Petty's No. 43 truck in the race.

Notes

-- Kirk's crew chief is Ernie Cope of Tacoma. Cope is the cousin of Winston Cup driver Derrike Cope of Spanaway.

-- Today's field is expected to include Tobey Butler of Kirkland and Dan Press of Vader, Lewis County. Butler, driving a Chevrolet owned by Winston Cup driver Ken Schrader, is 16th in the point standings.

-- Butler and fellow drivers Ron Hornaday and Jay Sauter visited patients at Children's Hospital Thursday.

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NAPACARD 200

What: NASCAR Truck Series race for domestic pickups.

Where: Evergreen Speedway, Monroe

When: Today, 12:30 p.m.

Television: TBS.

Distance: 129.2 miles (200 laps around .646-mile track).

Format: Two segments - 1 to 101 laps and 102 to 200 with pit stop between segments.

Defending champion: Mike Bliss, Portland.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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