Sports worlds collide at UOP
Athletes from different backgrounds experience new perspectives
At first, it may not seem like there are that many differences between bobsled and NASCAR. Both sports involve navigating around courses at high speeds in a race. Sure, one occurs during the warmer parts of the year while the other is a winter sport, but both sports can find some common ground.
NASCAR drivers Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace experienced some summer bobsledding on Wednesday at the Utah Olympic Park’s track alongside other professional racecar drivers and athletes. The two hopped into a sled with Olympic luge silver medalist Chris Mazdzer and one of the bobsled pilots at the UOP and went down the course.
“I would say, looking back, it’s what I expected,” Hamlin said. “The first couple of corners, I thought, because they said we’re going to do about 70, so I’m like, ‘Alright, I think we’re doing about 50 or 60.’ And then we hit a corner, and I’m like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, we’re going faster than that.’”
Hamlin thought the experience was more like a rollercoaster versus piloting a stock car.
“We have Gs, but we’re kind of strapped in pretty tight, and our body isn’t moving,” he said. “It’s just different. It’s a mix of racecar banking and Gs versus rollercoaster up-and-down.”
Wallace said he had been in a fighter jet before, so the bobsled experience and the G-forces reminded him of that.
“You prepare yourself, make sure you’re not walking into something super sketch,” he said. “But I enjoy the thrill of it. I enjoy the thrill of the unknown and getting to experience it.”
It’s not the first time that the two sports have overlapped. Former NASCAR driver Geoff Bodine headed up the Bo-Dyn Project, which helped build bobsleds for the U.S. The project helped the U.S. men win their first gold medal in the sport since 1948 at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
The bobsled experience was part of an entire day of activities for Toyota athletes to experience other sports in Park City. Snowboarder Toby Miller and Paralympian sprinter Jarryd Wallace also took a ride down the track.
“It brings such a cool perspective,” Jarryd Wallace said. “We’re all the best at what we do, but we all do different things. I know what it’s taken for me to get to the top of my sport, and I know that everyone else has their own journey.”
As a snowboarder, Miller is no stranger to adrenaline. But being in a bobsled was a completely different experience compared to a snowboard run.
“It was the most exciting, most fun rollercoaster I’ve ever been on,” he said. “I can only imagine what the Olympians and the people that actually do that for a career feel when they’re going down the ice. I can only imagine how much faster it is, but that was really special.”
The next stop on Wednesday was at the training pool at the UOP. The athletes watched training sessions on the water ramps and marveled at the various jumps. Some, like Bubba Wallace, took advantage of the opportunity to go down the mini ramp on skis after some coaching from moguls skiers on the national team. Bubba Wallace flailed his arms and landed face-first on his initial attempt, so he went back up and gave it another go. His second jump went much smoother, and he enjoyed earning some redemption.
“You just don’t come into these things too cocky because it can humble you real quick,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that was a humbling moment. I just know I didn’t execute the thing that I was supposed to on my checklist.
“My pride was shattered after that first one, I had to go back and get it. And that’s what I did on that second one.”
The athletes wrapped up the day with a tour of the USANA Center of Excellence, where they had the opportunity to see how winter-sports athletes train in Park City, complete with Bubba Wallace, Mazdzer and Miller trying to do as many flips as possible into a foam pit. They also had the chance to use the center’s skiing simulators that are used for training. Afterward, they completed a workout with U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes.
“It’s just totally different,” Bubba Wallace said. “I know I couldn’t be able to compete in what (the skiers) do. I couldn’t compete in bobsleds. Wouldn’t we all like to try like hell and attempt it? That’s all we can really do.”
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