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Men accused of possessing counterfeit racing merchandise with intent to sell

SUWANEE - Suwanee police arrested two men last Friday with more than $11,000 worth of low-grade counterfeit merchandise the duo allegedly intended to sell at a NASCAR race in Bristol, Tenn.

Police found more than 1,000 bogus NASCAR T-shirts and more than 60 Kid Rock T-shirts inside a silver Jeep Liberty stopped when the driver allegedly ran a traffic light on Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road near the Interstate 85 interchange, according to Suwanee police detective Sgt. Shane Edmisten.

The merchandise, estimated to be worth $11,310, was not high-quality, Edmisten said. The shirts - which featured images of driver Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car - did not carry the official NASCAR insignia and a black marker was used to mark out the Hanes logo on the shirts.

Investigators were able to confirm the racing shirts were fake by e-mailing pictures of the items to officials at Bristol Motor Speedway and JR Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr.'s race team.

A marketing manager from JR Motorsports signed an affidavit attesting that the items were counterfeit, Edmisten said.

Police are unsure if the Kid Rock T-shirts are fake, he said.

The driver and the passenger, en route to Bristol for last weekend's race, were arrested on charges of felony possession of counterfeit merchandise with intent to sell. They remain in the Gwinnett County Jail.

Counterfeit merchandise has grown more common in the last several years, prompting NASCAR and its partners to file suit in February in federal court seeking to seize phony merchandise at race events, according to court documents.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said it is unclear how much counterfeit property has been confiscated to date.

Officially licensed merchandise - everything from shirts and hats to collectible cars - is big business, yielding NASCAR more than $2 billion in worldwide annual sales, Poston said.

"NASCAR fans are perhaps the most passionate about their sport than any other, and they tend to buy merchandise that represents their driver," he said.

Royalties from the sales go to drivers, race teams and the sport's 22 racetracks, he said.