Friday, July 20, 2012

Logano meets with Patriots players

New England native Joey Logano grew up in Middleton, Conn. A few hours north is New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a track Logano calls home. Halfway between his home and the famous short track also known as the "Magic Mile" is New England's favorite football team, the Patriots. On Sunday, July 15, three members of the three-time Super Bowl-winning team visited NHMS for their very first NASCAR Cup race. They were guests of Joe Gibbs Racing, mainly Logano, but they still met and visited with the driver of the No. 18 Toyota, Kyle Busch.

From left to right: Zoltan Mesko, Joey Logano,
 Nick McDonald and Ryan Wendell.
Photo Credit: Geneviev
Logano had the opportunity to visit Gillette Stadium last season and tried to kick a field goal. "I'm going to stick to driving racecars," said Logano of the experience. In other words, he can't kick very far.

Zoltan Mesko, the Patriots' No. 14 punter, can't imagine driving a car faster than 100 miles an hour. He said he'll stick to football, a sport he fell into because of an accident. "I kicked a soccer ball into the gym lights and coach told me to play football or pay for the broken lights," he said. No one then could predict it would eventually lead him to a Super Bowl championship-winning team.

Mesko admitted to being a fan of Home Depot and started to follow Tony Stewart years ago. Now he is a Logano fan. 

NASCAR and football are two of America's highest-rated sports to watch on television and live at the stadium or racetrack. Aside from the obvious differences between the two sports, what the athletes do before the game/race was a topic of conversation among the guys at the Home Depot hauler.

NASCAR fans can buy a ticket to the infield and roam around the garage taking pictures and trying to score autographs while teams prepare the car, and drivers practice and qualify. You'll never see fans get to do that on the football field. It kind of makes the fans feel a bit spoiled - in a really good way.

Mesko and Logano
Photo Credit: Genevieve
When Logano walked out of his hauler and stood next to the Patriots players, he joked that he felt small and decided to stand on the steps again.

It is ideal for drivers to be small in size because the less weight in the seat of the car means the crew can play around with equipment to create more of an aerodynamic advantage for the race. As for size and physical ability, auto racing is the only sport where women can be physically competitive with men. No matter how strong and physically fit a woman is, she will never be able to keep up with playing against men on the football field, while she can race against a man on the racetrack.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted a while back that his small size in height and weight is the reason he could not pursue a career in football, a childhood dream of his. Imagine Logano, Earnhardt or even Danica Patrick being tackled by a 300-pound guy?

Patriots center No. 62 Ryan Wendell said he can handle it, but not crashing a car at a high speed. He asked Logano: how do drivers recover from a crash? 

"A lot faster than you guys do," Logano responded jokingly.

Even with a helmet and protective gear, a hit in football is more physically damaging than that of a car crash. Although a car wreck could cause severe injury or death, NASCAR has implemented many safety features to protect the drivers, all of whom have admitted to being thankful for the five-point seat belt harness and HANS device.

Football players might die when tackled; there are a reported 325 deaths among young players  before graduating college, and three professional players have died on the field. The damage done to players could be unnoticed for a few days and could eventually lead to severe consequences, as it did to the retired Patriots linebacker No. 54 Tedy Bruschi. He suffered a mild stroke after the 2005 Pro Bowl game, which was just a few short weeks after the 2005 Super Bowl where he helped his team win. He chose to sit out the entire 2005 season. He went on to play for two more seasons before retiring in 2009.  

There are plenty of other players who had to take time out from football because of an injury. Tom Brady, the No. 12 quarterback for New England, took the 2008 season off because of a serious knee injury that led to surgery. Peyton Manning, the quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, took the 2011 season off to recover from a neck injury that also led to surgery.

When was the last time a NASCAR driver suffered severe career-ending injuries - or took an entire season off because of a car wreck? Some who come to mind are Shane Hmiel, who is now paralyzed after crashing in his USAC Silver Crown car on Oct. 9, 2010. Another would be Rick Hendrick's late son, Ricky, who was involved in a car accident in a Busch Series car at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and suffered shoulder injuries. Ernie Irvan survived two severe car accidents, one in 1994 and the second in 1999. After the 1999 incident, he announced his retirement.

Recently, Denny Hamlin took time out of racing in a Nationwide race for the Daytona Jalapeno 250 because of a back injury. Hamlin had knee surgery in 2010 - but it didn't stop him from racing. Nor did Kasey Kahne's knee surgeries, his last one was in February, right before the Daytona 500. Fans joked that the surgeries helped these guys become better drivers. Putting the comedy aside, if NASCAR drivers do not live a healthier life, or one where they at least take care of themselves, their minor injuries from a wreck could lead to a short career.

Both football and NASCAR play every weekend, mainly on Sundays. However, football players stay in a hotel the night before the game, even when playing in their hometown. "It gives you a chance for a good night's sleep without the kids waking you up," Wendell said. 

NASCAR drivers stay in a motor coach at the racetrack. The Joe Gibbs guests got to visit Busch's bus, and Mesko wanted to know if there was a jacuzzi in there, and there is not. There is however, all the other amenities.

Drivers have a busy morning before a race, while football players have a quiet, relaxing morning before a game. But all agreed they'd get acclimated if they were to have the opposite responsibilities. Logano admitted he'd go stir crazy if he had the whole morning off before a race, instead of the 30 to 45 minutes he now has.

After the game, football players have a chance to unwind before answering media questions. They can run off to their locker rooms, shower and change before facing media in a press conference. NASCAR drivers have microphones in their faces before they get a chance to get out of their cars. All media obligations are done before a driver can shower, change and gather their thoughts. 

A NASCAR race weekend lasts three days, as a opposed to one day. NASCAR fans can camp out at the track - and at some tracks, they can camp out in the infield.

One final thought: NASCAR drivers are paid through sponsorship dollars. Football salaries are determined by the National Football League individual teams and there's a salary cap. Who are the higher paid athletes? Manning recently signed a $96 million, five-year contract with the Denver Broncos. However, Brady's net worth is $100 million and he earns $26.5 million a year, where as Earnhardt Jr.'s net worth is $300 million and he earned $26 million in 2011.

NASCAR drivers are also big fans of football, as are many of their teammates. Some of the crew members were on football teams before joining a pit crew  - or even getting a job at the shop. Regardless, if you're running around on a field throwing a ball, or sitting in a car driving fast around a relatively small racetrack or changing tires during the race - living a competitive athletic lifestyle is what these guys like to do and they wouldn't trade it for a good day at an office job.

Drivers are just as athletic as football players - and drivers may consider themselves to be driven by an adrenaline rush more than athletic ability.

Genevieve at Ogunquit Beach, ME
Photo Credit: Genevieve
Genevieve is a writer with a day job in child care. Raised in New England, and is now residing in Cornelius, North Carolina. When not writing about NASCAR, she lives an athletic lifestyle. All pictures in this post are her own, for photography is her new hobby. To find more pictures, you may 'Like' her facebook page, CGenevieveJ, and follow her on Twitter: @C_Genevieve.  


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