With the national media spotlight shining on Charlotte this week, city officials and public relations practitioners are scrambling to portray the area as more than a ¿grits-eating, NASCAR-loving town.¿

But H.A. ¿Humpy¿ Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe¿s Motor Speedway, believes describing Charlotte as a ¿grits-eating, NASCAR-loving town,¿ is equivalent to donning your favorite pair of shoes¿they may not have the perfect shine, but they are comfortable and fit like a glove.

¿What¿s wrong with grits and NASCAR?¿ Wheeler asked from his office which overlooks the legendary 1.5-mile superspeedway that annually hosts three NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races. ¿If it weren¿t for grits, our ancestors would have starved and we wouldn¿t even be here. Frankly, is there anything better than properly peppered and salted grits with red-eye gravy and a little country butter?

¿What would they change? We don¿t grow truffles and the only caviar in our rivers comes out of gar fish and carp. That¿s it; we¿ll make carp our new all-Charlotte dish.

¿As for NASCAR, it has entertained millions of us. NASCAR racing has kept us from boring Sunday visits; swimming in the muddy Catawba; pretending Crowder¿s Mountain is Mt. Rushmore; watching planes take off at Charlotte-Douglas; and sitting on the banks of I-85 waiting for the newest BMWs to go by.

¿Come on, it¿s Super Bowl week¿lighten up! Charlotte has a decent image even if it isn¿t spectacular,¿ Wheeler continued.

¿After all, where would New Orleans be without crawfish; Memphis without the blues; Boston without baked beans; Nashville without country music; and Miami without its beautiful beaches and rich ethnic mix?

¿But maybe someone knows something I don¿t about this supposed ¿image¿ problem. Maybe our good mayor, Pat McCrory, and our great former mayor John Belk have made a deal to move the Blue Ridge Mountains to Belmont and the Atlantic Ocean to Monroe. But, then where would the bypass go?

¿I think I¿ve finally got this image thing figured out. Instead of grits and NASCAR, perhaps Charlotte should be known for its roads and traffic; strip malls, hamburgers; Big Boy tomatoes; a bank on every block; mega subdivisions bursting with four houses to the acre; boats jumping over I-77; thousands of video cameras working night and day to catch the felonious speeders; and daily tours of the Federal Reserve in hopes of catching an air-conditioner blown twenty.¿

Wheeler noted that more than a million people will travel to the Charlotte region this year to attend events at Lowe¿s Motor Speedway, including the May 22 NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge, May 30 Coca-Cola 600 and Oct. 16 UAW-GM Quality 500.

¿They will pump nearly $400 million into the local economy and I don¿t think a single one of them has a problem with Charlotte¿s image,¿ Wheeler explained.

¿Hey, let¿s have some fun this week and not act like a bunch of Zurich bankers who have eaten too much cheese!¿