You wouldn't even notice Jim Stacy.

Except for the white cowboy hat big enough to shade Dallas.

And except for the belt buckle with the .22 derringer hooked to it. Does the gun shoot? "Yep." Is it loaded? "I wouldn't carry a gun if it wasn't loaded."

You wouldn't notice Jim Stacy.

Except for his foot-long cigars.

So when you go up to Stacy and say you've noticed him, Stacy winks and says, "It's my low-key personality."

We'll get back to our shrinking violet hero. We'll tie him to the megabuck/computer aspects of a sophisticated game that began simply with moonshine runners. First, this pause for details about stock car racing's big deal here Sunday . . .

They run the Daytona 500 worth $927,920 to 42 teams. Maybe 130,000 customers paying up to $50 a ticket, along with a national television audience (WDVM-TV-9 at noon), will see what two-time winner Cale Yarborough predicts will be "the most competitive race ever run in the history of racing." He sees 30 cars capable of running together.

The favorites: Benny Parsons, fastest qualifier at 196.317 mph; Harry Gant, Buddy Baker and Yarborough; defending national champion Darrell Waltrip, who said, "I've got the best chance I've ever had to win;" Bobby Allison, Richard Petty and Neil Bonnett, who after accusing Waltrip of causing him to spin out in a qualifier said, "The first time somebody touches that 21 car that isn't supposed to, I'm gonna show you some 'Thrills and Chills Auto Show.' No more Mr. Nice Guy."

No, siree, you wouldn't even notice Jim Stacy.

Except he owns or sponsors seven cars in the Daytona 500. Nobody ever before did anything like that here. The name J.D. Stacy is everywhere, on cars, on jackets, on caps.

It costs him $3 million a year to own two cars and sponsor five more, he said. If you throw in his racing-parts operation in Charlotte (a 35,000-square-foot factory), Stacy has a $5 million investment in stock car racing.

Once upon a time, Lee Petty, Richard's daddy and the first winner of the Daytona 500, borrowed $900 from a little bank, bought a car off a used-car lot, souped it up in his backyard garage and paid for it by winning a month's worth of races.

Later, the auto factories of Detroit put up money for racing. The Ford and General Motors people got out about when OPEC suggested gasoline would cost $2 a gallon someday. Now the game that began in backyard garages and moved to Detroit has become a Madison Avenue enterprise, with the megabucks of advertising the rich fuel that has turned stock car racing into as sophisticated an enterprise as there is in sport.

Warner Hodgdon, a Californian with real estate money burning a hole in his designer jeans, spent $250,000 on a tractor-trailer rig for Bonnett's Wood Brothers car. The trailer has an elevator to lift people to the top. It has its own videotape system for studying films of practice laps and races. The floor of the trailer is walnut parquet. Operating rooms aren't much more antiseptic than this outfit.

"It'll cost me $1 million to run this one car this season," Jim Stacy said, waving a cigar at a Buick. "We build it from the floor up with all the absolute latest scientific equipment. This car has about as much in common with a street car as the space shuttle does with a kid's kite."

Stacy is 51. He quit school in Hazard, Ky., after the eighth grade. "My PhD is in my head," he said. "You can hire all the PhDs you want for $50,000 or $100,000. I spend that much at the race track in a week." At 13, he did construction labor. Now he says he holds American rights to a Dutch coal-mining machine that could bring him $1 billion--billion, with a "b"--over the next 10 years.

No, siree, you wouldn't even notice Jim Stacy.

Except he agreed to have all seven cars rolled through the garage area and lined up for a television shot.

"Good Gawd Awmighty," said Buddy Baker, spying the Stacymobiles. "If that ain't impressive . . . "

Stacy smiled. "Only thing that makes my knees knock," he said to Baker, "is when it comes the first of the month and I have to sign the checks for 'em all."

On all the cars, the name J.D. Stacy is painted on front, back and side.

It's advertising.

If Lee Petty ran his backyard specials with only his signature over the door, and if factories cared only that Ford or Chevrolet was spelled right, today's stock cars are literally advertising vehicles. The 42 cars Sunday are shilling for stoves, card games, airlines, soft drinks, jeans, motels, snuff, chewing tobacco, suntan lotion and candy, to say nothing of spark plugs and such.

"Football players make money off the field in advertising," Richard Petty said. "Like with O.J. Simpson flying into that Hertz car. The difference is, you don't see O.J. running down the football field in a game with Hertz on his back."

Petty has a reported $2 million a year deal with STP. He wears an STP decal on the lower left corner of his sunglasses.

"Racing is the cheapest way to get your company's name in front of 100 million people a year," Stacy said. "If you go out and buy TV ads and put ads in magazines and newspapers to reach that many people, you have to spend many times more to get our kind of exposure.

"It's like STP. When Andy Granatelli got into racing, STP became famous all over the world. So when STP got a new product, they didn't have to promote it. They just put it on the shelf and it sold. That's what we're trying to do. We want to build Stacy Enterprises to where it's a household word. Then we can sell any kind of product because we've built a name that means excellence."

The Internal Revenue Service agrees, Stacy said, that the money spent in stock car racing is an advertising expense.

"My cars are rolling billboards," he said.

CBS-TV asked Stacy if it could install a camera in Joe Ruttman's car to give viewers a picture of what it's like out there. When the camera turns to look out the rear window, it shows the inside edge of a wind spoiler. On that spoiler, which usually is unpainted, the television audience will see a blue decal with yellow lettering: STACY.