Former Tar Heel visits Hendrick Motorsports
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Tyler Hansbrough went to school in the heart of NASCAR country, but the Indiana Pacers’ 6-9 power forward admits he had “other things” on his mind while attending the University of North Carolina.
Those things included helping his Tar Heel team win three-straight Atlantic Coast Conference basketball titles as well as the 2009 NCAA national championship.
“I was young and having fun and never really paid attention to (NASCAR),” Hansbrough said Monday while touring the Hendrick Motorsports complex with members of the Pacers organization. “This (tour) was definitely an eye-opener … I’ve gotten a whole new appreciation for it.”
Hansbrough isn’t totally lost when it comes to NASCAR -- just months after he and his UNC teammates defeated Michigan State for the national title, and prior to joining the Pacers (he was the 13th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft), Hansbrough served as grand marshal for the ‘09 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard.
An off-day between games against Brooklyn on Sunday and Charlotte on Tuesday afforded Hansbrough and his colleagues the opportunity to tour the massive Hendrick complex.
"This was definitely an eye-opener … I’ve gotten a whole new appreciation for (NASCAR)."
-- Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, after touring the Hendrick Motorsports complex
“Maybe now that I know a little bit more about the cars, met some of these people here, I can get into it and watch it a little more closely,” Hansbrough said.
The group saw nearly every step in the process of building race cars, visiting chassis, engine and fabrication shops, as well as seeing a completed car put through its paces on a seven-post shaker rig.
Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., served as tour guide, while Alan Gustafson and Chad Knaus (crew chiefs for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, respectively) took time to speak to the group.
“It’s always cool to interact with different teams in sports,” Letarte said. “You don’t realize how similar some of their philosophies and structure are like our race team.
“It was a fun day. The guys from the Pacers were very cool and so interested in what we did; I think we opened their eyes on how NASCAR is more than just cars on the track.”
The athleticism of the crews caught the attention of Hansbrough and Clark Kellogg, vice president of player relations for the Pacers. Hansbrough even tried his hand at jacking a car and attempting to remove a rear wheel after getting a glimpse of a pit stop practice.
“You always draw parallels from what I’ve done as a former player and what I do now as a broadcaster,” said Kellogg, who also serves as lead analyst for CBS college basketball. “But the teamwork aspect is always something that jumps out at you when you get behind the scenes of another organization in another sport.”
Kellogg said he knew there was athleticism involved from the drivers’ standpoint, “but I did not really lock into the fact that the pit crew members are tremendous athletes,” he said.
“You just watch how easily they move and how they get around, they’re like cats. I was quite blown away by the fact that they are extremely athletic and this place has made a commitment to making sure that they not only get high-quality athletes but they prepare them to perform at their highest level in this sport.”