November 13, 2000 12:00 PM

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Age: 26

Home: Mooresville, N.C.

Height: 6 ft.

Eyes: Blue

Marital Status: Single

This third-generation racer, the first rookie to win the Winston, NASCAR’s all-star competition, says having his car flip over is one of the most exhilarating thrills of his sport. “It’s wild,” says Earnhardt. “It happens so fast, you’re done before you realize what’s happening. It’s not something you really want to do, but when you do it’s like getting away with breaking the law.”

Jeff Gordon

Age: 29

Home: South Florida

Height: 57″

Eyes: Blue

Marital Status: Married

He races at speeds of up to 190 mph, but in 1992 Gordon slowed down long enough to catch a glimpse of that year’s Miss Winston, Brooke Sealy, now 29. “It was love at first sight,” says Gordon, one of NASCAR’s biggest stars. The two wed in 1994 and still travel together during the racing season. “I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been apart,” he says.

Jimmie Johnson

Age: 25

Home: Mooresville, N.C.

Height: 5’11”

Eyes: Brown

Marital Status: Single

At age 4, he raced motorcycles. “And it just went I on from there,” says Johnson, who, like the other drivers, is away from home for most of racing’s February-to-November season. “People might think this life is glamorous, but there’s a lot of travel, the sponsors are very demanding, and there are a lot of business obligations.” So what’s good about being a race car driver? “Winning,” he says.

PJ Jones

Age: 31

Home: Cornelius, N.C.

Height: 5’11”

Eyes: Brown

Marital Status: Single

“Television has really made stars of the NASCAR drivers,” says the son of racing great Parnelli Jones. And while the younger Jones relishes his celebrity, he chills out by spending time with “people who really don’t know very much about NASCAR.” Explains Jones: “I’m grateful to the fans and I love to race, but I like to get away from it and get away from all the crowds.”

Wally Dallenbach

Age: 37

Home: Mooresville, N.C.

Height: 5’10”

Eyes: Brown

Marital Status: Married

Dallenbach knew what he was getting into when he followed the path of his dad, Indianapolis 500 legend Wally Dallenbach Sr. “You’re in shark-infested waters. There are always people who are after your job, your sponsors, your crew chief,” says the younger Dallenbach, who has three children, ages 2 to 8, with wife Robin, 36. “The driving part is easy.”

Chad Little

Age: 37

Home: Charlotte, N.C.

Height: 5’9″

Eyes: Hazel

Marital Status: Married

“In many sports you get a time-out. In racing there are no breaks,” says Little, who is married to Donna, 33, with whom he has a son, 3, and daughter, 2. “It’s an intense mental strain.” If Little ever chooses to leave the driver’s seat, there are two other roads he can take. He has a law degree from Gonzaga University and, says Little, who lives on a farm, “I’m learning to be a cowboy.”

Hank Parker jr.

Age: 26

Home: Davidson, N.C.

Height: 6’1″

Eyes: Blue

Marital Status: Single

While drivers don’t need to be musclemen, they do need to be fit. “It gets unbelievably hot inside the car,” says Parker, who runs on a treadmill to “get in shape to endure the heat and exhaustion.” The guys who work on the cars, Parker adds, also need to be in top form: “The driver is like the quarterback who gets all the limelight. But racing is really a team effort.”

Matt Kenseth

Age: 28

Home: Terrell, N.C.

Height: 5’9″

Eyes: Hazel

Marital Status: Engaged

Don’t tell Kenseth that racing revs up a guy’s sex appeal. It didn’t lure his fiancée, Katie Martin, 21. “We met at a wedding. She didn’t know what I do,” says Kenseth, who knows that “racing is difficult for the girlfriends and wives. It’s a difficult schedule.” And it’s dangerous. “There are close calls at every race,” he says. “I’ve had some hard wrecks, but I haven’t been injured yet.”

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