Big race means booming business at The Checkered Flag at 256 Erie St. S.
Tony Stewart is going to win Sunday’s Dayton 500.
Except the winner is probably going to be Jeff Gordon.
Those are two of the predictions you’re likely to get if you go to The Checkered Flag NASCAR Store in Massillon.
“Almost everyone who comes in here favors a particular driver,” said shop manager Natalie LaPorte. “Some come in who just enjoy the sport, but most usually have a favorite driver.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is by far the favored racer.
“He’s picked right up where his dad left off,” said store owner Donnie Peters. “Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are behind him, but Dale Jr. is probably 80 percent of my business.”
A shrine of sorts to Junior’s dad is erected at the front of the store.
“In Loving Memory of Dale Earnhardt — The Intimidator — 1951-2001,” says a white sign, with the words accompanied by checkered flags and Dale Sr.’s car number, “3.”
A Coca Cola machine offers an illuminated life-size image of Earnhardt. An assortment of cereal boxes nearby also carry his picture — Wheaties, Honey Roasted Wheaties, and Crispy Wheaties ’n Raisins.
The promotional boxes are part of Peters’ collection. Photographs of race car drivers line the ceiling of the shop.
“He’s got a big collection,” said LaPorte with a smile. “It’s in his office and my office — his collection runs deep around here.”
Indeed, Peters began the business in the middle of the 1990s in part because of his interest in NASCAR. The shop was in a second-floor space of a building on Lincoln Way in those days. Peters moved the store to its Erie Street S location in 2000.
Customers faithfully have shopped in the store through the years for NASCAR-related items.
“It’s not just men,” said LaPorte. “There are a lot of women, also. And seniors. Believe it or not, there are a lot of little children who come in who know the drivers and who they drive for.”
The customers shop for hats, T-shirts, hoodies, license plate holders, model cars, key chains, can koozies, coffee mugs, notepads, crew chief shirts, racing bibs, flags, pennants, and even Christmas stockings.
Christmas is the store’s busiest season, with customers making pilgrimages to its shelves to pick special NASCAR-themed holiday gifts. But the days before Daytona come close.
“This is the Super Bowl of NASCAR racing,” explained Peters. “Apparel sells the best this time of year. Everybody goes to parties for the Daytona 500, so they want to wear their favorite drivers.”
Ah, yes, the favorite drivers. So, who is going to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday?
“I’m picking Tony Stewart to win,” said Peters.
Page 2 of 2 - “I’m a Jeff Gordon fan,” countered LaPorte. “I do like Jimmy Johnson also, but Jeff’s my guy.”