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Scientology publisher to sponsor team

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Race fans, let the couch-jumping begin.

The Church of Scientology, the religion for which actor Tom Cruise crusades, will attempt to spread its "Ignite Your Potential" message into auto racing through sponsorship of a race
car in one of NASCAR's lowest levels.

Kenton Gray, a 35-year-old Californian, will attempt to make the field for a late model race Saturday night at Irwindale (Calif.)
Speedway. His No. 27 Ford Taurus will be sponsored by Bridge
Publications, which publishes Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard's
bestseller "Dianetics."

The hood of the car will say "Dianetics" on it, along with a volcano to mimic the book cover.

Details of the sponsorship agreement were sketchy Wednesday.

A woman who answered the phone at Freedom Motorsports, the team Gray founded, referred all calls to Bridge Publications. Danielle
Methvin, spokeswoman for Bridge Publications, did not immediately
return a call for comment. And there was no word if Cruise, who
famously jumped on a couch during an Oprah Winfrey appearance last
year, will be attending the race.

NASCAR, for now, has no issue with the sponsorship.

"The sponsorship at the weekly and regional touring level are
made independent of NASCAR, unlike our three series on the national
level," spokesman Jim Hunter said. "However, we would step in at
any level if we deemed it to be in bad taste or bad for the sport.
But in this case, we don't think it is."

According to Freedom Motorsports' web site, Gray announced the
five-year sponsorship deal on May 6.

"Dianetics is a book that helped me in many ways since I first
read it many years ago," Gray said in a statement. "It helped me
get better control over the obstacles I had to get through to reach
goals I was passionate about. Its a great honor to have a sponsor
relationship that's so directly related to my making it this far."

Scientology is not the first religion to make its way into
racing.

Morgan Shepherd has competed the past few years in the No. 89
Victory in Jesus Racing Ministries car. NASCAR had to sign off on
his paint scheme, and refused to let his first offering onto the
track before finally agreeing to allow the message "Racing With
Jesus" onto the hood of the car.

And in 2004, Bobby Labonte drove the season-opening Daytona 500
in a car that advertised Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion of The
Christ."

Still, NASCAR keeps a close eye on what it allows on its tracks.

"When you get into philosophies and morals, that's a slippery
slope," Hunter said. "But we do understand that NASCAR has broad
national appeal, and we reach millions of people every week. Not
all of our fans agree with some sponsorships, but they do
understand that it is imperative for our cars to have sponsors in
order to succeed.

"Obviously, philosophically, everyone has different opinions."