RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - NASCAR President Mike Helton said it's fitting that a new initiative by the NASCAR Foundation to promote helping others was unveiled this week when deadly tornadoes killed hundreds across the Southeast.
Through 'NASCAR Unites,'' the foundation plans to encourage fans, drivers, teams, tracks, sponsors and others to work to improve the lives of children through fundraising, volunteering, sharing inspirational stories and working to make a difference for people in need.
Tornadoes and severe storms ripped through the south, leaving 341 dead across seven states - including 249 in Alabama. Thousands more were hurt, and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed.
NASCAR will use three programs: NASCAR Day on May 20, a focus on getting people to donate 1 million volunteer hours during the summer and the awarding of the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award to an active community volunteer with an inspirational story to promote awareness.
NASCAR Day is the day on which activities are held at several tracks as the sport encourages fans and others to make donations and raise money that can be used for worthwhile causes.
The humanitarian award winner, to be announced during championship week in Las Vegas, will get $100,000 to give to their favorite charity, and a new car to keep from Ford, Helton said Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.
The foundation also will give $1 million to children's charities on 2011.
Nominations in the form of inspiring stories of volunteering efforts will be accepted for the humanitarian award beginning April 29 and may be submitted online through July 18.
If 200,000 people each donate five hours, NASCAR will achieve the 1 million hours, Helton said, although he added that many people are inclined to donate more than five hours.
``We're also privileged to hear a lot of good stories that are told that a lot of people don't ever get to hear,'' Helton said, calling volunteering ``what we should be doing.''
TWEETER: Clint Bowyer hosted a one-hour Twitter party, and isn't sure why.
``What a joke!'' Bowyer said of the session in which he was supposed to answer followers' questions. ``Oh, my. I was involved in a Twitter party. Did I host the Twitter party? I attended a Twitter party. I don't know why we just didn't get on the phone and talk to each other.''
The session was apparently arranged by Bowyer's PR representative.
``I'm still upset that he made me even participate in such a goofy thing,'' Bowyer said.
HOME COOKING: Denny Hamlin went into Saturday night's race 2 for 2 on the weekend, having won his charity race on Thursday night and the Nationwidse Series event on Friday night.
The race he really needed to win, though, was the main event.
``We need this weekend to get back on track and I think this is the perfect time to do it,'' Hamlin said. He grew up in Chesterfield, about 15 miles from the track in suburban Richmond.
Hamlin finished second in the points race to Jimmie Johnson last season, but entered the race in 17th place, and with just one top 10 finish, a seventh place run at Las Vegas.
WHEELING FOR WINS: Jeff Gordon thinks driver talent has been minimized at race tracks like Darlington, where the performance of the car is the most important factor on a fast track.
That makes Richmond a welcome place to come racing, he said.
``To me it's nice to come here to Richmond and know that you can play a big role in the speed of your car,'' the four-time series champion said. ``It still is a short track.''
NO ROYAL WEDDING: Jeff Gordon thought the royal wedding was ``cool,'' but isn't planning to throw antyhing for his daughter like the huge million affair for Prince William and Kate Middleton.
``Oh no, definitely not,'' he said. ``No prince and princess wedding happening there. Why do you have to get me all stressed out about that now? I'm already worried about it.''
MANUFACTURER MEETING: NASCAR will meet with officials from all four of its participating manufacturers next week in Detroit for an informal discussion on the state of the sport.
NASCAR President Mike Helton likened the meeting with representatives from Dodge, Ford, General Motors and Toyota to the many town hall sessions industry leaders have had with teams and drivers over the last few years.
``The idea was for us to be better communicators with the stakeholders - the broadcast partners, the tracks, the teams, the drivers,'' Helton said. ``Obviously, the manufacturers are stakeholders and now we're kind of catching up to tell them the same information we're telling all the other stakeholders.''
AP Motorsports Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report

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