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Wimbledon Plus worth the price

The abundance of free features on the Internet usually is enough to make frugality an easy thing for sports fans online.

Rare is the subscription service that yields exclusive information that can't be found elsewhere with a little research. Where sites have had the best luck in getting fans to type in their credit card numbers is multimedia, by offering well-produced video and audio clips from major sporting events.

With that in mind, you can do far worse with $7 this weekend than subscribing to Wimbledon Plus, a premium product of video highlights and audio commentary from the event's official site, wimbledon.org.

The package is ideal for fans who can't watch live TV coverage and want more than SportsCenter highlights, starting with a cool "Player Matchview" feature. For two players each day, one match is edited down to a two-minute highlight reel, with postgame interviews playing over match footage.

With the Williams sisters advancing to another final and Andy Roddick into the semifinals, it's easy for mainstream media to focus on the success of American players, but the interviews shed light on lesser-known stars such as Roger Federer or Mark Philippousis. Seeing players answer questions in news conferences shows more of their personalities _ or lack thereof _ than even watching a match on television.

And for fans who long for days when rackets were smaller and characters bigger, the package's Golden Moments archive has highlights from recent years as well as the epic 1980s battles such as McEnroe-Connors, Evert-Navratilova and Lendl-Becker. There's only one clip from before 1980, so the nostalgia can only take you so far.

Each day's matches are compiled on a highlight clip, updated three times a day, and during play, fans can listen to live audio commentary. The video clips are only practical with a high-speed connection, but the official site offers a free audio product called Radio Wimbledon that can be more easily downloaded for 56K connections.

PREMIUM, BUT FOR FREE: NASCAR.com offers a free test drive of its popular TrackPass product this weekend for the Winston Cup and Busch series races in Daytona Beach. During the races, it's a great complement to be watching on TV, with a souped-up live leaderboard, simulated views of each driver's dashboard instrumentation and even pit-crew audio available through the PitCommand feature.

In between the races and qualifying sessions, the best way to take advantage of the free weekend is to check out the "Races to Go" feature, which condenses each race into an 8- to 10-minute highlight reel. The most popular clip isn't from a race at all, but from the recent announcement of NASCAR's switch to Nextel as the title sponsor beginning next year.

TID-BYTES: Signed helmets, yes, but a motorcycle? A custom-built Harley Davidson Fat Boy model, autographed by Bucs Mike Alstott, Joe Jurevicius, John Lynch and Ronde Barber is being auctioned at eBay.com with a minimum bid of $15,000. A poll at Buccaneers.com this week coyly asked which NFC South defensive end would have the most sacks in 2003. Tampa Bay's Simeon Rice landed 78 percent of the vote, with Panthers second-year phenom Julius Peppers second with 13 percent. This could be a closer call in the fall: Peppers missed the last month of the season with a suspension, but in mid November he had 11 sacks to Rice's 10. After the managers pick their reserves, baseball fans can select the final two players for next weekend's All-Star Game by voting online, starting Sunday. Last year's "Final Vote" campaign drew 3-million ballots in a two-day period.

_ If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at aumansptimes.com.

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