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Original Issue

Batty about Stock Car Racing Former Red Sox slugger Mike Greenwell is pursuing his first love

Look into Mike Greenwell's eyes, and you can see the fire
burning. Talk to him for five minutes, and you get the
impression that his 12-year career with the Boston Red Sox
didn't give him half the rush he's feeling now.

Twice a month from January to November, Greenwell, 35, races
limited late-model stock cars, usually at Charlotte County
Speedway in Punta Gorda, Fla. He's in his first full season
behind the wheel, and though he's still searching for a victory,
he's having the time of his life. To Greenwell, becoming a top
driver--maybe even in NASCAR--has long been a dream. Growing up
in Fort Myers, Fla., he had two loves, baseball and motor
sports, the latter owing to a stock car race his father took him
to at age four. It wasn't until his 19th birthday that he raced
for the first time, driving a stock car to a fourth-place finish
in Naples, Fla., on July 18, 1982. A few days later the Red Sox
signed Greenwell, their third-round draft pick, and shipped him
to Class A in Elmira, N.Y. His contract stipulated that he would
not race.

That didn't dampen Greenwell's enthusiasm. He assembled a racing
team six years later, gained sponsorship, and entered his team
in races all over the country, including many in the Busch Grand
National Series. But as hard as he tried to get the no-racing
clause removed from his contract, the Sox wouldn't budge.

He caused a stir in June 1991, when he drove three laps during a
promotion at Seekonk Speedway, south of Boston. "I was in the
first year of a four-year contract, and I was hitting, like,
.330," says Greenwell. "I went to the speedway, signed some
autographs and drove a few laps. Somebody caught it on tape, and
the media made a big deal about it. I went up to [Red Sox
general manager] Lou Gorman and said, 'Well, I violated my
contract. It looks like you should release me.' He told me he
didn't release .300 hitters."

Greenwell played five more seasons with the Red Sox and finished
with a .303 career average. He played briefly in Japan before a
broken right foot led to his retirement in 1997. As soon as his
foot healed, Greenwell inserted himself as the driver on his
racing team. His progress has been steady, but he realizes he's
not ready for the big time yet. "Racing is much more difficult
than I thought it would be," he says. "I'm at a bit of a
disadvantage because I'm going up against guys who have been
doing this for years. Still, I think I'm ahead of schedule. I
work on my car like everyone else, so I think I've earned the
respect of the other drivers."

Greenwell's red Monte Carlo, with his old Sox jersey number (39)
painted on the hood in fluorescent yellow, blended in with other
cars on a muggy Saturday evening in July. After a prerace test
drive, Greenwell threw off his helmet, leaped out of the car and
became animated. "This replaces the adrenaline of baseball," he
said. "Some athletes are lost when they finish their careers.
But racing has always been a part of my life, and it's important
for me to keep close to my roots and do something like this."

--B.J. Schecter

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [Mike Greenwell sitting in car]