From the golf course to far-flung race tracks to the shores of Lake Michigan, some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are still finding ways to compete even though NASCAR’s premier circuit is taking a rare week off.
Denny Hamlin and Michael Waltrip are taking part in perhaps the most high-profile event, the American Century Championship celebrity golf event in South Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The nationally televised tournament runs Friday through Sunday and includes celebrities like Ray Romano as well active and retired stars from a number of sports, such as baseball great Chipper Jones and Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.
Hamlin, a 22-time winner with Joe Gibbs Racing, played in the event last year and finished 41st out of 82 competitors. Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner whose Michael Waltrip Racing cars have won twice this season -- most recently last weekend at New Hampshire with driver Brian Vickers -- is participating for the first time.
Another driver has chosen a slightly more rigorous pursuit. Josh Wise of Front Row Motorsports will take part in a half-Ironman triathlon Sunday in Racine, Wis. The event includes a 1.2-mile swim in Lake Michigan, a 56-mile bicycle ride and a 13.1-mile run. The 30-year-old Wise started doing shorter triathlons with fellow driver Scott Speed, and has been training for the half-Ironman for about a year. In typical racing fashion, Wise even took his bike to a wind tunnel in Mooresville, N.C., to test aerodynamic positioning.
“It was amazing how similar it was to what we do with the race cars,” he said. “They were very thorough, and had a test plan and ran through different configurations with me on the bike. The coolest part was the aero efficiencies that we gained, which just translates to more speed with the same amount of effort from me.”
For Wise, Sunday’s event is a step toward his first full Ironman -- a 2.4-mile swim, 110-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run -- scheduled for December in Cozumel, Mexico.
“I try to add competition to everything, so I guess that’s why this fell within my wheelhouse,” he said. “I’ve always trained really hard to be in good shape in the race car, and this just added a fun element to that for me, and goals for me to set. It’s been a pretty awesome journey up to this point, and I’m pretty excited for (Sunday).”
For others, this off weekend will feature familiar surroundings -- the race track. Joey Logano is competing in Sunday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, driving Penske Racing’s No. 22 car. Front Row’s David Ragan is returning to his short-track roots, driving in a Shriner’s benefit race Friday at Oglethorpe Speedway near Savannah, Ga.
Oglethorpe hosted two NASCAR premier series races in the 1950s, the latter won by Hall of Fame member Lee Petty. A winner earlier this season at Talladega, Ragan will compete at the half-mile dirt track in the street stock division, driving a vehicle provided by a local car owner.
“It's an off weekend but I'm going racing," said Ragan, a south Georgia native. “It's kind of a vacation to go back home and see all the family. Doing events like this is relaxing, it's fun. You don't have a lot of pressure like we do on the regular Cup weekend. So we will be at a race track, but it will be a little different.”