NASCAR

Racing just a way of life for some NASCAR drivers

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Why is it that NASCAR drivers can't just go out and relax away from racing? A quick look around the offseason shows that many of them spend their spare time doing exactly what they do as a career — going out and racing. It's just in their blood somehow. While people in most careers spend their vacations trying to escape the travails of what they do on a day-to-day basis, racers clearly pursue a different direction. They rush to the track in all types of vehicles to compete. Robby Gordon is currently competing in the Dakar Rally. Kasey Kahne is entered in the upcoming Chili Bowl. Jamie McMurray has been kart racing. Todd Bodine and several others went extreme by competing in bobsleds in a charity event. And a group of Cup drivers, including three-time champion Jimmie Johnson, past event winners Casey Mears and Juan Pablo Montoya as well as AJ Allmendinger and Max Papis are ready to race sports cars around the clock in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. Others are quietly competing at short tracks around the country. Drivers just can't seem to stay away from competition — even when they have a chance to do so. "You get a bunch of racers together, and they all want to go fast," said Bodine, who won the recent fourth annual Geoff Bodine Bobsled Challenge, an event put on by Todd Bodine's brother, Geoff, to raise funds for researching, developing and manufacturing bobsleds to help U.S. athletes.

Todd Bodine admits that whenever drivers get together, that competitive urge appears once more. "You put us all on a bunch of bicycles, and we would be racing each other," he said with a gentle laugh. McMurray, who spends the Cup season driving the Roush Fenway Racing No. 26 Ford, spent part of the offseason competing in Daytona Kartweek's World Karting Association races at Daytona International Speedway. He said that, in some ways, competing in these events isn't much different from his regular competition. "It's just like racing in NASCAR," he says. "It's very stressful when things don't go well, and when it goes well, it's very gratifying." McMurray said that he loves karting, especially since he gets to be very hands-on with the experience. "(In NASCAR) you pay somebody to build shocks, you pay an engineer to look at data, and I don't understand all that," he said. "I really like that about this. I buy these go-karts in a million pieces, I buy all the parts for them, and I really enjoy them." McMurray said he finds it gratifying when people appreciate his kart — just as he seems to find the racing in these type of events a kick. Others have been preparing for more racing this year. Gordon is in the midst of the Dakar Rally, the off-road event he annually competes in. He finds time to squeeze in a few other offroad excursions from time to time as well. Kahne has been a fairly regular competitor in the Chili Bowl Midget Nationals. Held annually in the Tulsa Expo Center in Oklahoma, the event draws drivers from a variety of racing disciplines. And then there's the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race that has been won by teams that included both Montoya and Mears. Mears, who previously won while competing with Chip Ganassi Racing, said that he jumped at the chance to compete in the race with the Childress-Howard entry. Mears has joined Richard Childress Racing and will drive the organization's No. 07 Chevrolet in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season. "The Rolex 24 is one of the 'Big Three' in American auto racing, along with the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500," Mears said. "It will give me the chance to get warmed up for the Cup season, especially now that there will be no testing at Daytona." Drivers know how grueling this event will be. But with no sanctioned testing at Daytona, Auto Club Speedway in California or Las Vegas Motor Speedway this preseason, they find themselves with a little more time in their schedule. They plan to push themselves to the limit during that down time — and to enjoy a little extra competition. It's just in their blood. "Man, it's so worth the pain," Johnson said in announcing plans to drive for the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing team at Daytona. "It is so much fun to do this event. I have been second twice, and it is so sweet to finish the race (that) I can only imagine what it would be like to win. "I would love to add that credential to my resume with the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. It would be awesome."


Rea White is a writer for NASCAR Scene, which is published weekly, 50 weeks per year. Visit www.scenedaily.com for more information.

Tagged: Juan Pablo Montoya, Robby Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Max Papis, Todd Bodine, Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger, Casey Mears, Kasey Kahne

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