They may not be NASCAR’s newest fans, but they are certainly among the tallest.
Tyler Hansbrough, the 6-foot-9-inch forward with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, and Clark Kellogg, a 6-foot-7 former NBA player and CBS Sports’ lead college basketball analyst, were among a group from the Pacers to get an up close visit to Hendrick Motorsports on Monday.
Hansbrough, a former college All-American at North Carolina, and Kellogg, who also serves as the Pacers’ vice president of player relations, spent most of Monday afternoon being whisked around the Hendrick complex by Steve Letarte, crew chief for driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Hansbrough’s Pacers team faces the Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“This was a lot better than what we’d usually be doing, which is sitting in the hotel watching TV,” Hansbrough said.
Members of Hendrick’s public relations staff met with the Pacers organization last year and left a standing invitation to visit HMS should it have the chance while playing in Charlotte.
The organization decided to take HMS up on the offer this season.
“I really don’t keep up with NASCAR that much, but after seeing what all goes into the cars and how everything is handled, it’s pretty impressive,” Hansbrough said after trying his hand at changing lug nuts during pit crew practice.
“Maybe now that I know a little bit more about the cars, I’ll get into it and watch it a little more closely.”
Hansbrough’s only previous NASCAR experience was serving as the grand marshal of the 2009 Brickyard 400 shortly after the Pacers drafted him in the first round.
Hansbrough seemed genuinely excited as he got to see areas of the Hendrick complex usually reserved for employees.
He occasionally pulled out his camera phone to snap a photo, especially when the group got to see one of Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolets put through the rigors of a seven-post shaker rig, which simulates race conditions.
Kellogg said he was “completely fascinated” with the behind-the-scenes look at NASCAR.
“I’m not a race car fan, but my appetite has been whet today to go to a race,” he said. “I’ve watched from the distance but being able to get up close with one of the most successful organizations is absolutely fascinating.”
After visits to the engine and chassis shops, both Hansbrough and Kellogg said they were amazed at the detail that goes into constructing a NASCAR race car.
“I really don’t know much about cars and came in with no expectations, but the most surprising thing to me is how detailed everything …, how specific each little part has to be,” Hansbrough said.
Even the one area of the complex with which Hansbrough was likely most familiar – the gym and weight training area – impressed him.
“It’s similar to what we have,” he said. “But to be honest with you, it might be a little bit nicer.”