THE MARKETING 100; DON HAWK;DALE EARNHARDT

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Sneakers.

That's what 70% of the fans attending a Nascar Winston Cup race are wearing. Don Hawk figures they should be wearing Dale Earnhardt sneakers.

After all, great numbers of them are already wearing Earnhardt caps, T-shirts, socks, belts, sweatshirts, even $5,000 custom leather jackets proclaiming identification with the seven-time Winston Cup season champion widely known as The Intimidator.

As the president of Dale Earnhardt Inc., Mr. Hawk, 40, negotiates the driver's sponsorship and endorsement contracts and licensing deals. The financial empire approaches Michael Jordan proportions, with total sales from more than 300 Earnhardt items estimated at $50 million last year.

The Jordan comparison doesn't stop there.

"I like to think [Mr. Earnhardt] will be the first race car driver to sign a large sneaker deal," says Mr. Hawk.

Mr. Hawk managed business for Alan Kulwicki until the 1992 champion driver died in an April 1993 airplane crash. Shortly afterward he joined the Earnhardt organization, where he describes his role as handling business so the driver "can concentrate on winning."

Sports Image, an Earnhardt-owned company, produces much of the apparel sold along with other souvenirs from a 45-foot truck trailer at race tracks. Among all-Earnhardt catalogs is one for 8,500 General Motors Corp. dealers in connection with Earnhardt primary sponsor Mr. Goodwrench.

Mr. Earnhardt also appears on the QVC TV shopping network a couple times a year, and in a one-hour post-race appearance on ESPN's Shoptalk sold $700,000 worth of merchandise.

Mr. Hawk says Mr. Earnhardt's bad boy mystique, born of his aggressive driving style and accentuated by his black Chevrolet and black helmet, helps sales.

"Fans either love him or they hate him."

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