A blown tire relegated Dale Earnhardt Jr. to a 42nd place finish in last Saturday's UAW-GM Quality 500, but the weekend wasn't a complete loss. The driver (below) filmed a scene with Will Ferrell for the comedy High, Wide, and Handsome at Lowe's Motor Speedway outside Charlotte. ( Ferrell's first scene at the track required him to run down the backstretch in his underwear; "I've done worse," he told Junior.) In their scene, Earnhardt, playing himself, gets an autograph from Ferrell's character, a driver named Ricky Bobby. Afterward, Earnhardt took the signature home. "I ain't giving it away," he says.
? Move over, rock opera, here comes jock opera. Lyricist Elizabeth Searle and composer Abigail Al Doory have penned Tonya and Nancy: The Opera. The libretto for the one-act opera incorporates real dialogue from the skaters, their mothers and Harding colleagues Jeff Gillooly and Shane Stant. Searle, a writing professor at the University of Southern Maine, was inspired after Harding began boxing in 2003. "That was that perfect ending," says Searle. "When Tonya said she liked boxing 'because you're allowed to hit the girl,' she found an outlet for her strength as an athlete and her anger." Will Tonya and Nancy show up to hear songs like Why Me?, Whip Her Butt and It's Quite Nice to Be Back on the Ice when the show opens at Tufts University next spring? Says Searle, "We'd love to have them. I feel they might like it."
? Ben Roethlisberger turns the key to the Steelers' offense, but Hines Ward holds the key to the city where they practice. Last Thursday the Pro Bowl wide receiver was made honorary mayor for a day in Washington, Pa., following in the footsteps of former town-key holders John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy. Asked what he might do if he were the real mayor, Ward told SI he'd try to curb violence, beef up education programs and raise taxes to help low-income households. And, he joked, "Every Friday we'd have a party."
? Basketball Jones might have been a more appropriate choice, but Paul Pierce instead sang Proud Mary, his favorite song, to celebrate his 28th birthday. Last Thursday the All-Star forward hosted Celtics teammates and execs, as well as Michael Tarshi of The Apprentice and Tina Barta of MTV's Road Rules, for a karaoke birthday party at Boston's Alley Cat Lounge, which Pierce partly owns. To fete the birthday boy, Celtics rookies Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green and Orien Greene rapped, "Go, Shorty, it's your birthday...." over 50 Cent's hit In Da Club. Of Pierce's Tina Turner impression--he got backup vocal help from Celtics coach Doc Rivers--a Lounge rep says, "The good news is that [Paul] has a place of his own where he can practice again and again."