Cabarrus County, the 'racing side of Charlotte' and just 15 minutes north of Lowe's Motor Speedway, has a new destination with special meaning to Dale Earnhardt Sr fans.

Earnhardt's hometown of Kannapolis unveiled a nine-foot, 900-pound, bronze statue of the Winston Cup legend, along with four wall-sized murals by motorsports artist Sam Bass in October 2002, but fans will find that the tribute is more than just a place to visit. Through participation in the sponsorship programme, fans can help add to the 'attraction'.

The Dale Earnhardt Tribute steering committee and the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau launched the sponsorship programme at the same time as the unveilings. Fans can order an engraved brick for a contribution of $75 or sponsor a perimeter garden area for $250, a bench for $500, a welcome column for $750, a legend garden space for $1000, a section of the seat wall surrounding the statue for $2000 or a section of the steps leading up to the statue for $5,000.

Participants in each level of the programme can include a personalized message of three lines with 16 spaces per line. Participants will receive a certificate noting their contribution and information as to the location of their brick or sponsored item in Dale Earnhardt Plaza, the park surrounding the statue. The funds raised will go to support the work needed to complete Dale Earnhardt Plaza and support the continued development of the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Centre. The programme so far has raised over $16,000.

Both elements of the Tribute are located in Cannon Village, Kannapolis' downtown. Dale Earnhardt Plaza is on Main Street, while the Dale Earnhardt Tribute Centre is located a block away, in the Cannon Village Visitor Centre on West Avenue.

Arizona sculptor Clyde Ross Morgan spent time with the Earnhardt family, and their desire to have Earnhardt remembered as a person as well as a driver inspired the statue design. The statue has Earnhardt's familiar stance and grin, but depicts him in the type of button down shirt, blue jeans and cowboy boots he wore off the racetrack.

"Creating a larger than life statue of someone who's already larger than life was the most challenging and rewarding project of my career," Morgan admitted.

David H. Murdock, LA businessman and owner of Atlantic American Properties [AAP] in Kannapolis, paid for the statue, while Bass worked with AAP, owners of Cannon Village, to renovate a portion of the Cannon Village Visitor Centre and transform it into the Tribute Centre. The gallery opened in May 2002 with 15 of Bass' most recognised portraits of Earnhardt. The four wall-size murals unveiled in October mark the beginning of what Bass considers a lifetime commitment to making the Tribute Centre the most comprehensive record of Earnhardt's life and career.

"To have been selected by Dale's hometown to celebrate his life and career accomplishments through my artwork is a tremendous honour," he said, "Dale has always been such an inspiration to me as a race driver, business person and family man. He won at everything he did. I look forward to artistically documenting and sharing his incredible legacy with his family, friends and legions of fans."

Work on the Kannapolis Tribute began in March 2001 when Kannapolis was visited by thousands of fans, who came to the city to feel a connection with their hero, after Earnhardt died. The decision was then made to fund the Tribute through private donations and, in all, over $115,000 has been raised and an additional $74,000 in services contributed.

Further information on the sponsorship programme can be downloaded from the Kannapolis website [www.cityofkannapolis.com] or by calling 704-938-5133 for a brochure.