Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In case you missed it: Top Gear takes on TMS

Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond speaks with Juan Pablo Montoya in the TMS garage last fall.
 BBC Worldwide/Oisin Tymon
The UK version of "Top Gear" has been on for years. Currently hosted (they call them presenters in the UK) by Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, "Top Gear" has for the most part poked fun of NASCAR in favor of Formula 1 ... until recently.

Last fall during the race at Texas Motor Speedway, Hammond was invited to the track and got the chance to speak with many of "our" sport's top drivers. In addition to being the honorary pace car driver, Hammond went for a drive around the circuit, sitting alongside Kyle Petty before hitting the track for his own laps.

Those living in the UK had a chance to see the episode earlier in the year, but Monday night, American viewers got their first view when the second episode of the 18th season aired on BBC America.











Opening the segment, Jeremy Clarkson - who has always been critical of NASCAR - said, "Let's get one thing straight, Formula 1 is better than NASCAR." 

Then it was off to Texas with Richard Hammond.

Driving along in a car that was once used to haul moonshine, Hammond explained the foundation of NASCAR and its popularity over the years. Touching on the early days of the sport and early safety features such as homemade roll cages, Hammond transitioned into explaining some of the features of today's cars. 

Describing the cars as having a "rebellious streak" and being "beautifully simple,” Hammond spent time with five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson in the garage. Johnson explained the safety features of today's cars and the lack of technology compared to Formula 1 (remember, this was filmed before EFI went into effect)


Then Hammond spoke with Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya was able to give Hammond a practical comparison of NASCAR and Formula 1. Having driving in Formula 1, Montoya stressed the difference in the braking of the two types of cars and the weight. 

Standing just inside of the track alongside Jeff Gordon, the two discussed the level of access fans have to the drivers and the action as a pack of cars sped by on the racing surface. Hammond was shocked to learn that those inside the car were fans who had paid to take part in a ride-along, something you'd never see in F1.

Hammond and Gordon also discussed the often spectacular wrecks seen in NASCAR racing, with Gordon pointing out that many of the wrecks are caused by drivers trying to get each other out of the way. Hammond responded, "You can't just ram him 'cause you can't overtake," to which Gordon replied, "You do if there's a bumper involved."

Hammond then got the opportunity to do something many only dream of. Acting as honorary pace car driver, Hammond remarked from the driver's seat, "Behind me 39,000 horsepower was itching to get going ... it's like being attacked by tigers." 

The trip concluded with Hammond strapping into a two-seater and taking some laps on the track. Coached by Kyle Petty, Hammond screamed like a 5-year-old for much of the ride as Petty urged him to take the car deeper into the corners and "mow the lawn." Remarking on how it didn't feel like any other vehicle he'd ever driven, the British host screamed, "I'm so scared! Oh my God! Oh dear Lord!"

Later while driving the car on his own, while Petty followed, it was obvious Hammond was having the time of his life as he squealed with joy before saying, "Both of my lungs are on the same side of my body! This is not normal!" in regards to the G-forces felt by a driver. 

While the show's other two presenters may never see the appeal of NASCAR, it was nice to see Richard Hammond give props to the sport. It may not be their beloved F1, but in this episode of "Top Gear," those in the UK got to see the inside of a sport many look down their nose at. And for that, this NASCAR fan is thankful.

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