Stock-car champ changes all his gear

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The grease-and-spark-plug world of American stock-car racing would rather forget about JT Hayes, one of its brightest stars of the 1980s. Thing is, JT has a new name these days. He - she - also has a different gender.

It is five years since Hayes walked away from the circuit and embarked on the last stage of what he been secretly planning for years, surgically transforming himself from man to woman. Now she - her new name is Terri O'Connell - has decided to go public with her story.

In recent years, Ms O'Connell has moved from her native Mississippi to Charlotte, North Carolina, the unofficial home of Nascar, the governing body of US stock car competition. There she has established a modelling and graphics design business. Among her clients are several Nascar teams.

As rumours of her identity began to leak out in Charlotte, however, her Nascar work began to dry up. The reason, she alleges in this week's Village Voice in New York, is prejudice among Nascar officials who have been telling friends and clients to ostracise her. "They don't want people like me around motor racing," she said.

Ms O'Connell, who was a $100,000-a-year racer at the peak of her success, hopes to find a publisher for her autobiography, entitled Pink, Blue and Checkered. In it, she will relate how for years she tried to conceal her sexual turmoil. "There was a lot of hide and seek, a lot of stress."

There was the time, for instance, when she crashed at 150mph in Houston and found herself worrying, not about her broken ankle, but about her pink toe-nails and the lacy knickers she was wearing that day. She will also tell how towards the end of her racing career she had to strap down her budding hormone-enhanced breasts.

Officials at Nascar deny that there is any campaign against Ms O'Connell. "People's preferences are their own," a spokesperson said. If Ms O'Connell can find a sponsor, she may soon put Nascar's protestations to the test. She has decided it is time to get behind the wheel again.