Is Oprah visit behind removal of Dale Earnhardt banners?

KANNAPOLIS, N. C. — The late Dale Earnhardt's hometown is taking down banners honoring the NASCAR great, at the request of a billionaire developer who is bringing a client to town on Saturday.

According to e-mails obtained by the Salisbury (N.C.) Post newspaper, California billionaire David Murdock is coming to Kannapolis on Saturday with an important guest and wants to put the "best face on the city."

Murdock's company, Castle & Cooke, owns the North Carolina Research Center, a science research park being developed in Kannapolis at the site of the old Cannon Mills.

City Manager Mike Legg wrote in a July 18 memo to the city council that the "Dale Trail" banners would be permanetly removed. Earnhardt was killed in 2001, on the last lap of the Daytona 500.

There are no indications as to the identity of Saturday's guest, but the Salisbury newspaper said there is speculation that it might be Oprah Winfrey. Murdock announced earlier this year that he is working on a joint project with Winfrey, an entertainment billionaire.

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