Issue Date: February 8, 2009
NASCAR Daytona 500 heroes meets Sports Illustrated swimsuit models
Each February, sports fans eagerly await the upcoming Daytona 500 and delivery of Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue. Now, for the first time ever together, we bring you a preview of both!
It looks like a scene at a high school dance. Boys huddle in a corner, joking while trying to ignore the unignorable on the other side of the room: beautiful girls waiting for an introduction.
Soon, those introductions are made and the "boys" -- NASCAR stars Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. -- mingle with the girls. After all, it's not every day that you get to meet top "Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit Issue models like Brooklyn Decker and Julie Henderson for USA WEEKEND's annual NASCAR cover/poster issue.
Spirits are high, given what's kicking off this week: this weekend's Budweiser Shootout and other racing events leading to the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15, and the swimsuit issue, which hits newsstands on Tuesday. Earnhardt confesses that, like the 500, the swimsuit issue was an irreplaceable part of his formative years.
"It's an icon," Earnhardt says at the shoot, which takes place at the Richard Petty Driving Experience headquarters in Concord, N.C. "A lot of women have become very famous because of it. My all-time favorite would have to be Tyra Banks."
Both events could not come at a more opportune time: It's cold. The Super Bowl is history. March Madness is a month away. Then, for one wonderful week, we get a reprieve as welcome as a beach blanket under the Florida sun: fast cars, beautiful women and tropical beaches.
Raised in Charlotte, Decker realizes how big this week is for race fans. "Cars get decked out with the drivers' stickers and flags," she says. "All the storefronts would get decorated, and the kids in school get their faces painted in their favorite racer's color scheme."
So start the engines, folks, and break out the sunscreen while you're at it. It's going to be a great week.
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About our models: Brooklyn Decker, at far left, will be making her fourth appearance in the "Sports Illustrated" Swimsuit Issue. She is engaged to tennis star Andy Roddick, who also attended our photo shoot. This is the third appearance in the swimsuit issue for Julie Henderson.
About our drivers: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer made NASCAR's championship run, now known as the Chase for the Sprint Cup, last year, and Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. made it in 2007. Earnhardt has received the Most Popular Driver Award -- as voted by fans -- six consecutive times.
About our photographer: USA WEEKEND is honored to have "Sports Illustrated" photographer Walter Iooss Jr. shoot our annual Daytona cover/poster this year. Iooss, a legend in his field, has shot 10 swimsuit issue covers.
Who's been on the swimsuit issue cover: Tyra Banks, Christie Brinkley, Rachel Hunter, Kathy Ireland, Heidi Klum, Beyonce Knowles, Elle Macpherson, Marisa Miller, Petra Nemcova, Paulina Porizkova, Rebecca Romijn and Cheryl Tiegs.
About this year's 500: This will be the 51st running of the Great American Race, with coverage on Fox beginning at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 15.
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More quotes from our NASCAR greats
From Martin Truex Jr.: "What could be better? You get the best race of the year, and the swimsuit issue hits the stands at the same time."
From Clint Bowyer, who grew up in the Midwest: "You can bet that it was a great day in Kansas when that issue arrived. You went right to your mailbox to see who got on the cover. But whether they made the cover or not, every model looked great, and the photography was always excellent. The swimsuit issue is just a great tradition."
Want to know more about NASCAR posters? Click here.