No Martha, No Oprah: Citizens wonder about VIP visitor’s identity, city posts letter to Earnhardt fans on Web
By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó So far, no big celebrity has shown up in Kannapolis alongside David H. Murdock.
And the city has posted a letter to Dale Earnhardt fans on its Web site assuring them that Kannapolis is not abandoning its native son.
The controversial removal of Dale Trail flags last week from Dale Earnhardt Boulevard angered NASCAR fans across the country and spurred rumors that a celebrity was coming to town.
After speculation Friday that Oprah Winfrey might visit Murdock and his N.C. Research Campus, developer Castle & Cooke was inundated with calls from citizens asking how they could get tickets to the event. Some thought Winfrey would appear in Village Park.
Then rumors spread that Martha Stewart was the “pretty important guest” mentioned by city manager Mike Legg in an e-mail to City Council members. Legg wrote to the council that he wasn’t “100 percent positive who that is.”
But neither media mogul has been to Kannapolis.
“No, she is not here and has not been here,” Lynne Scott Safrit, Castle & Cooke president, said Monday about Stewart.
Stewart and Murdock are longtime acquaintances. And Murdock acknowledged in March that he was considering some kind of collaboration with Winfrey. She has been to his California Health and Longevity Institute, which includes a state-of-the-art television studio.
The buzz surrounding the possibility of Winfrey or Stewart coming to Kannapolis “bemused and befuddled” Castle & Cooke officials, marketing director Phyllis Beaver said.
People may not realize that Murdock always has had famous friends, and “they’ve been coming here for 25 years,” Beaver said.
Murdock, the billionaire owner of Dole Food Co. and real estate giant Castle & Cooke, built a 17,000-square-foot home in Landis called Pity Sake Lodge in 1982.
Murdock stays at the lodge once a month for about a week and meets regularly with big names from the science, academic and business worlds as he recruits individuals and companies to the Research Campus.
But preparation for this week’s visit and Murdock’s current guests, whoever they are, caused a stir among NASCAR fans when the city removed the Dale Trail flags at the request of Castle & Cooke and the Cabarrus County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Despite the negative reaction, Safrit said she wouldn’t have handled the flag removal any differently.
“They were torn and dirty, and we didn’t think they were respectful of Dale’s memory,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Post. “There is a beautiful statue and park that pay a wonderful tribute to Dale, and I don’t think the flags impact that one way or another.
“The Tourism Bureau has some wonderful ideas as to how to continue to promote the Dale Trail, and I leave that to them as that is their expertise and not mine.”
Legg said he spent the majority of the weekend corresponding with Earnhardt fans, assuring them that Kannapolis is not abandoning the Earnhardt legacy.
“Even though we are certainly proud of the changes going on in the City of Kannapolis and our new and exciting future, we are in no way abandoning our history and heritage,” Legg and Kannapolis Mayor Bob Misenheimer wrote in a letter to fans posted on the city’s Web site.
The City Council earmarked $25,000 to enhance the Dale Earnhardt Plaza, the site of the statue, the letter said.
“There are no plans for removal of the statue and no plans to change road names or numbers,” Legg and Misenheimer wrote.
Long before Murdock’s arrival this week, the Convention and Visitors Bureau already had plans to “enhance the Dale Earnhardt (Dale Trail) experience in Cabarrus County and Kannapolis,” the letter said.
Possibilities include a driving CD taking people to points of interest along the Dale Trail and new informational markers at key spots like Ralph Earnhardt’s grave.
“The bottom line is the City of Kannapolis supports and honors the legacy of Dale Earnhardt and will continue to invest in promoting his memory,” the letter said.
To view the full letter, go to www.cityofkannapolis.com and click on “Letter to Dale Earnhardt fans.”