Jamie McMurray poses with co-presenter Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp and "Queer Eye"'s Carson Kressley. Credit: Special to Turner Sports Interactive
McMurray gets Nashville star treatment
By Marty Smith, Turner Sports Interactive April 29, 2004
4:34 PM EDT (2034 GMT)

NASHVILLE -- Jamie McMurray is slumped down in the passenger seat of a Lincoln Towncar, knees propped on the dash, head back, mouth running faster than Marion Jones.

He's peppering the chauffer with questions about the upkeep of the vehicle. The driver is a proper gentleman, mid-40s, and plumb clueless about NASCAR.

McMurray: "You got Havoline motor oil in this thing?"

Driver: "Not sure."

McMurray: "How about gas? You always have to stop and get gas. Where do you go?"

Driver: "BP. We have a deal with them."

McMurray: "BP? Hmm. Need to go to Texaco. Best in the business, man. They'll take care of you. Texaco. Remember, Texaco."

Driver: "I'm not going to say another word. I know who's in the back seat."

Told you the ol' chap was clueless.

Seated in the back behind the driver? Yours truly. McMurray's publicist nearly blows out his eardrums trying to trap his laughter.

McMurray just shakes his head, can't bring himself to tell the poor fellow that he, the little inquisitive guy riding shotgun, is the famous racecar driver. That, in fact, he will present the Country Music Television Flameworthy Award for Cameo of the Year later that evening.

Anonymity doesn't last long. Once McMurray steps from the car, he's a superstar, armed with $3,000 in trendy shirts, jeans, shoes and coats, a new dye job and a fresh tan.

His appearance on stage comes early in the event, so he's quickly whisked off to rehearsal. Once there, McMurray is introduced to co-presenter Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp. This woman could melt a fire-proof driver suit with the wink of an eye. She's absolutely stunning.

A fashion-model goddess, she's married to legendary rocker John Cougar. (I know he's not John Cougar anymore, but something about saying "John Cougar Mellencamp" just kicks so much butt.)

Rehearsal runs flawlessly, though McMurray admits pronunciation concerns with words like "traditional" and "transcend." After practice, it's hurry-up-and-wait time. An everyday phenomenon for a racer, the whole "get there early to beat traffic and wait all day" deal is as much a part of racin' as rubbin' is.

In the hours between rehearsal and go-time, performers and presenters are placed in waiting rooms, three to five celebrities per station. Inside is a television, couch, cooler of bottled water and a makeshift changing station constructed of PVC pipe, tablecloth and some duct tape.

It's private, in a locker room sort of way. Outsiders can't see you, but anyone in the room has a good shot that they'll get a good shot, if you know what I mean.

In McMurray's dressing room are country music star Keith Urban, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" leader Carson Kressley and their respective entourages.

Kressley is on fire. People adore this guy. Shania Twain can't get enough. Terri Clark hunts him down on the red carpet for a hug and a picture. With him in the house, folks are extra cognizant of their ensembles. Fashion advice is given freely, though some don't require it.

Urban is a prime example.

This is one pretty man. And I mean that in a jealous sort of way. I sat in the crowd for much of the show, stage right, and when he hit the stage chicks were crying. Crying. Makes me realize just how stupid I was to pick the laptop over the guitar.

Speaking of guitars, Urban can pick with the best of them. It is controlled fury, like Mike Tyson on the speed bag. And he's stylish, too. A native Australian, Urban is a self-described "clothes horse." Hard to disagree.

At one point, McMurray held up a new pair of jeans seeking fashion advice, and from across the room Urban yelled the brand. Skeptical, McMurray studied the tag. Sure enough, Da' Maggio.

Clothes are a big deal at this gig. They're everywhere. McMurray has separate outfits for the red carpet and the show. The first is a white, blue and brown long-sleeve button down shirt that resembles a quilt, a coffee-colored suede overcoat, some trendy faded jeans and square-toed caramel-colored shoes that cost more than my car payment.

McMurray's publicist, Jason Wise, is equally decked out, courtesy of the bossman's bankroll. "Totally NASCAR" nutcase Sean Pragano is in a trendy button down t-shirt ensemble, while his cameraman, Matt Dilner, dons an outrageous brown '70s getup, complete with polyester jacket.

I'm slightly concerned about the jacket's flammability. This is the Flameworthy Awards, after all, and I anticipate pyrotechnics galore. One thing is for certain: In this garb, Dilner would get lost in the Brady Bunch's wallpaper.

Then there's me, over in the corner, counting the minutes until I'm called out. I won't make eye contact with Kressley, knowing he'll eat me for lunch. I'm in Banana Republic, man. Not bad for media scum, but not Dolce and Gabbana, either.

Fortunately, McMurray's fashion dilemma directs focus towards him. He can't decide whether or not to change clothes. For the show he settles on an orange, blue and white striped shirt and darker shoes, but keeps the jeans.

Show time.

McMurray and Irwin-Mellencamp present the show's second award to the cast of Brad Paisley's recent hit "Celebrity." (For the record: McMurray nails both "transcend" and "traditional."). Little Jimmy Dickens, who joined Jason Alexander, Jim Belushi, Trista Rehn and William Shatner in making cameos in the video, accepted on behalf of Paisley.

Dickens is a sly old man. I swear he let his hand linger with Irwin-Mellencamp's for a full 30 seconds before grabbing the trophy and uttering a gut-busting quote to those aware of Paisley's music and adoration of fishing.

"On behalf of my friend, dear friend, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Brad Paisley. He couldn't be here tonight. See, he had to go fishin'. He asked me to come and accept for him."

With that, McMurray was off to the second row to take in performances from some of country's biggest stars, including Rascal Flats, Martina McBride, Urban, Video of the Year winner Toby Keith, host Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss, Sheryl Crow and Montgomery Gentry.

Notable highlights included Maya Angelou's gorgeous introduction of McBride, who then proceeded to lift the roof off the joint as only she can do. How that overpowering voice comes out of that tiny little woman, I'll never know. Keith's acceptance speech after winning Video of the Year for "American Solider" -- "I'd like to thank Jesus Christ...and the fans, by God!" (Only in country music) -- was stirring. And Parton's quips about Janet Jacksonesque wardrobe malfunctions ("I'd take out the first three rows.") had the crowd in fits of laughter.


Once the show ended, it was back to the dressing room. Kressley is there, tossing out gifts like Santa Claus. He hands McMurray a red and white striped button down, and tells him to "wear it to the banquet in New York, at the Waldorf."

Whoa. The Queer Eye Guy knows NASCAR? Absolutely. And it's validated when Wise hands out his business card.

"Ganassi? Ohhhhh! They own the Target CART team," Kressley says. "Please. I know all about them. And a guy just won that hasn't in a long time, right?"

"Yep. Rusty Wallace."

"Yes. Everyone knows Rusty Wallace is No. 3."

I shake my head.

"Oh, two! Two! Dale Jr. is No. 3!"

Not so much, boss.

"Ohhh, Dale Sr. Dale Sr! I met Dale Jr. He's a nice guy."

Talking racing with Kressley is enjoyable, but it's party time. McMurray doesn't get very far out the door before he runs into the pack of young ladies that danced in Keith's performance of "Whiskey Girl." As they exchange pleasantries, several fans clamor for pictures and autographs.

A cute usher turns to me, says "Jeez. He's a popular guy, huh? Everyone knows who he is."

Yep. By now maybe even the chauffer has a clue.

Marty Smith is a senior writer for NASCAR.COM. His column appears each Thursday. The opinions expressed are solely of the writer.

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