Former NASCAR driver Leilani Munter WILL be taking her "Blackfish" car to Talladega, TMZ has learned -- all thanks to an incredibly generous donation from "Simpsons" co-creator Sam Simon.
As we reported, Leilani had desperately been trying to raise money to pay for the $115,000 fee to enter the car for a big race at an ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3rd. As of our last story, she had raised only $7,500.
But that all changed last week -- Leilani appeared on Simon's radio show to talk about her car and orca-related activism ... and Simon was so moved, Leilani tells us, he donated the balance of her entrance fee immediately after the show ... $107,500.
We're told Simon visited Taiji in February (the place where "The Cove" was shot) and has become an outspoken advocate for the humane treatment of orcas. Leilani tells us, she plans to win the race on behalf of orcas around the world suffering in captivity.
Sam -- who has terminal colon cancer -- has vowed to give away his fortune before he dies ... specifically toward animal rights and feeding the hungry.
As if giving the world "The Simpsons" wasn't enough.
NASCAR Legend Michael Waltrip
Pumped About Meeting Donna Summer
... Who Died 2 Years Ago
3/23/2014 1:58 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
NASCAR legend Michael Waltrip had the thrill of a lifetime today -- HE MET DONNA SUMMER ... at least, he thinks he did ... despite the fact she died two years ago.
Waltrip was doing some pre-race work for FOX at the NASCAR Auto Club 400 race today when he THOUGHT he spotted the disco queen.
He even sang some, "Last Dance" on his way over to interview the icon ... who was really just a woman who kinda sorta looked like her.
Once he got there, it got more awkward when he attempted to talk to her -- "Hi Donna how are you? Enjoy the races today, I love your music. You’ve got a great body of work that you’ve put together!”
Moments later, he told team owner Richard Childress, “If you like Donna Summer, she’s right back there.”
Of course, Summer passed away in 2012 ... the woman at the track is just a NASCAR fan named Star Walker.
But Star says she was flattered by the mistake because she's a HUGE Summer fan -- and even went to Donna's induction to the Rock 'N Roll Hall of Fame!
Ya gotta watch the clip.
Gunning to Race 'Blackfish' Car
... At Talladega
3/14/2014 1:40 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
ARCA could go ORCA at the Talladega Superspeedway ... because one of the drivers is trying to raise $115k to get behind the wheel of a "Blackfish" car at a race in May ... TMZ Sports has learned.
We spoke to Leilani Munter -- one of the Top 10 female drivers in the world -- who tells us she was so moved by the documentary, she wants to do everything in her power to spread awareness about the plight of killer whales in captivity.
"I believe that it is a crime for these magnificent, intelligent, and socially complex creatures to be forced to live in tiny concrete tanks," Leilani says.And her first order of business is wrapping a car in a custom "Blackfish" design to race at an ARCA event at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3rd. The only catch -- it's expensive.
Leilani tells TMZ Sports she needs to raise $115k for the cost of the car so she can enter the race ... which she's doing in part with the Oceanic Preservation Society, the people behind the documentary, "The Cove."
"The car represents more than just a race car," Leilani says ... "It represents awareness. I absolutely want to win."
Nationwide at Daytona Band
WE DON'T SUCK
Our Rock N' Roll National Anthem Was Awesome!
2/24/2014 4:04 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
The band that performed an unusual rock and roll version of the National Anthem at the Nationwide at Daytona race is firing back at haters -- insisting their song was super patriotic ... and not a horrible disgrace.
TMZ Sports spoke with the lead singer of Madison Rising ... who tells us the band has been getting a serious backlash from some NASCAR fans who didn't like their guitar-heavy version ... with some people calling them "disgraceful" and "disrespectful."
But Dave Bray -- who also happens to be a Navy veteran tells us ... "We know NASCAR has some of the most patriotic fans in the country, so I'm obviously disappointed that we didn't make a better impression."
"But the vast majority have come out with goose bumps, tears in their eyes and our version downloaded onto their iPods to listen to every day."
Bray adds, "The mission of Madison Rising is to help restore a sense of pride back into this country, and we are absolutely thrilled it’s having that effect.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
LIQUOR BEFORE BEER
You're In the Clear!
2/24/2014 2:04 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
Dale Earnhardt Jr. tells TMZ Sports ... he celebrated his big Daytona 500 victory by boozin' with his team 'til around 4AM -- so why isn't he a hungover mess this morning??? Simple. He followed the cardinal drinking rule.
You know how it goes ...
"Beer before liquor, never been sicker.
... Liquor before beer, you're in the clear."
Dale Jr. was out in NYC yesterday and told us he abides by the code -- usually startin' with some Jim Beam before switchin' to suds.
*Warning -- cardinal drinking rule does not always work. Booze with caution*
Richard Petty to Danica:
I ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE
... Let's Race!
2/21/2014 11:16 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
Gentlemen ... and ladies ... start your engines -- 'cause Richard Petty says he's ABSOLUTELY DOWN to race Danica Patrick in a 1-on-1 grudge match after trading shots in the media.
Of course, this whole thing started when Petty criticized Danica's crappy record -- and D.P.'s friend/team owner Tony Stewart said Petty and Patrick should settle their beef on the track.
Well, today ... Petty went on "Fox and Friends" and said HE ACCEPTS.
”Yeah you know, I’m 76 years old ... and it’s been 25 years since I’ve been in a racecar, but I’ll take that challenge.”
He then asked, "When's this gonna happen?"
Good question -- ball seems to be in Danica's court now.
Crash at Daytona
Injured Fan Gears Up for Lawsuit
My Body Is 'Deranged'
2/19/2014 4:57 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
A woman who was injured in a nasty 2013 Nationwide crash at Daytona is trying to hammer out a settlement with NASCAR ... claiming her body and her career were wrecked as a result of the freak accident.
The crash occurred in February 2013 -- when Kyle Larson's #32 car was smashed into a wall and pieces of the vehicle went rocketing into the stands, injuring several spectators including Whitney Turner.
The race went on ... but Whitney's attorney Matt Morgan tells TMZ Sports her life has been a disaster ever since.
"[She's] been living on her back since the date of the Nationwide crash. She has had multiple surgical procedures performed to repair her severed Achilles' tendon and internally deranged knee."
Morgan continues, "Whitney has lost her job as a marketing specialist and is struggling to support her young daughter."
As a result, Whitney has threatened to sue the International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR claiming they're to blame for her condition.
But before she files the suit, Whitney's lawyer says the parties will gather 'round a negotiating table to try and work out a deal to "amicably resolve their claims."
Sports Illustrated Pulls Down Nipple Pic
2/18/2014 8:15 AM PST BY TMZ STAFF
Danica Patrick's nipple is officially off the Internet ... TMZ Sports has learned the people at Sports Illustrated have finally removed a pic of the driver's exposed breast from its swimsuit website.
As we previously reported, several pics from a 2008 photo shoot were recently put on S.I.'s Swim Daily website as part of a "Throwback Thursday" gallery. One of the pics was a topless "selfie" in which Danica's nipple was fully visible.
There were questions as to whether the pic was posted by accident or if it was an intentional "artsy" thing -- but now that it's been removed from the gallery, it seems pretty clear ... it was never supposed to be there in the first place.
On Sports Illustrated Website
2/17/2014 12:27 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
So ... Danica Patrick's exposed nipple is hanging out on a Sports Illustrated website.
The racy pic of the NASCAR driver is featured in a "Throwback Thursday" photo gallery on S.I.'s "Swim Daily" website ... which features a "selfie" style photo shoot of Danica from 2008.
We called S.I. to find out if it was a mistake ... or one of those intentional "nipples are artsy" sort of things ... but so far, we haven't heard back.
Gentlemen, start your (search) engines ...
Jimmie Johnson to McNabb:
YOU'RE WRONG ABOUT RACING
Drivers Are Athletes ... And I'll Whoop Your Ass
11/18/2013 4:33 PM PST BY TMZ STAFF
Jimmie Johnson tells TMZ Sports ... Donovan McNabb was talking out of his ass when the QB said race car drivers aren't athletes ... and JJ says he'll crush him on the track to prove it.
Of course, the racing world went crazy this weekend ... when DM went on Fox Sports 1 and told Erin Andrews, "Do I think [JJ's] an athlete? Absolutely not."
FYI -- ESPN ran a Sports Science special on racing back in 2011 and said that testing proved race car drivers have some of the best reaction times, endurance, strength and concentration in any sport.
So, the question ...
Kevin Durant to Jay-Z
You're My New Agent
Now Go Make Me Millions
6/24/2013 1:45 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Jay-Z is putting Jerry McGuire to shame -- because his budding sports agency just signed three-time NBA all-star Kevin Durant.
The OKC Thunder superstar just posted an Instagram of he and Jay signing docs that make him Roc Nation Sport's newest client.
Durant is the latest in a growing list of HUGE athletes jumping ship to Jay's new venture ... like NY Yankee Robinson Cano, NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr., and NY Jet Geno Smith
Durant is Jigga's first NBA star.
FYI -- Durant is currently in the middle of a massive 5-year, $89 million contract with the Thunder. His move to Roc Nation has more to do with landing big money deals off the court.
Plans Black-Flag Tribute
5/18/2013 5:00 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
The Wisconsin racetrack where Dick Trickle forged his legacy -- winning TONS of races en route to becoming a NASCAR star -- is honoring the driver with a special pre-race ceremony when stock car season kicks off later this month, TMZ has learned.
It's all happening at the Wisconsin International Raceway in Kaukauna, WI (just south of Green Bay) -- where Trickle won so many races during his pre-NASCAR career, track officials named a building in Turn 2 the "Dick Trickle Pavilion."
We've learned ... officials at the W.I.R. have greenlit plans to commemorate their local hero with a memorial lap in Dick's honor on May 30 ... with the pace car carrying a black flag.
A rep for the company says Trickle was "a true champion, good friend and will be missed by all."
As we previously reported, officials say Dick died Thursday from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in North Carolina.
Dick Trickle's Brother:
NASCAR Star Was Suffering
from Extreme Chest Pain
5/17/2013 10:01 AM PDT BY TMZ STAFF
Dick Trickle suffered from excruciating pain under his left breast in the days before he killed himself ... and was "very down" about his health situation in his final days, this according to Trickle's brother.
Chuck Trickle opened up to both TMZ and the Las Vegas Review Journal ... saying Dick's death from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound is "a shock to me ... it's real hard to think about."
Chuck says he spoke with Dick just last week ... and the former NASCAR driver was complaining about a severe pain under his left breast that seemed to be getting worse.
"He was having a lot of issues w some pain ... he had sharp pain by his left breast and constant hard pain," Chuck told TMZ.
Chuck says Dick went to the doctor twice a day in an effort to remedy the issue -- and underwent numerous MRIs and CAT scans -- but doctors were never able to determine the cause of the pain.
“He was very down,” Trickle said ... adding, “He more or less said he didn’t know how much longer he could take the pain.”
As TMZ first reported, Trickle left a suicide note at the North Carolina cemetery where he died -- it's unclear if the note explains why Trickle decided to take his own life.