July 6, 2005
Daytona Beach –
By RICK HARMON
With spring practice done and the college football season seven weeks away, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops stopped by Daytona International Speedway on Saturday to take in the Pepsi 400.
Despite spending 12 seasons as head coach at Gainesville, Spurrier had never attended a race at Daytona.
“I’ve looked forward to this,” Spurrier said. “I’m tremendously impressed with what these drivers do and I’m really impressed with the sport of NASCAR. I’ve seen why it’s made it to the top and the biggest sport in the country now.”
Spurrier and Stoops were invited to the race by Kerry Tharp, recently named director of communications in NASCAR’s Charlotte, N.C., office. Before joining NASCAR, he was sports information director at South Carolina.
“I appreciated Kerry giving us the opportunity to come down,” said Stoops, who was Spurrier’s defensive coordinator for three years (1996-98). “I’ve been to one other race – the Daytona 500 about eight years ago. I love it. As [Spurrier] said, it’s amazing what these guys are able to do. I’m excited to be here.”
Both coaches spent some time with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Stoops found Jimmie Johnson, whose wife is from Oklahoma.
Spurrier was asked whether he could compare what the NASCAR drivers do to football. But he thought golf was a better example.
“You can only have one winner out of how many cars, 43?” he said. “In golf, they start out with 150 players and only one at the end of the week is the winner. It’s tough. In football, we’ve got two teams and one is going to win. If it’s an even game, you’ve got a 50 percent chance.
“So this is a much tougher sport, when you have just one winner and so many competitors.”
Both coaches were asked to answer the age-old question, “Are race car drivers really athletes?”
“I remember one time Howard Cosell said that race drivers are the best athletes of all,” Spurrier said. “He may be right. When you look at those steep banks that we just looked around the track just a few minutes ago, it’s scary to see how steep those banks are. The speeds they come around the corners have got to be incredible.
“[Cosell] said it takes a lot of mental conditioning, and physical as well. You don’t see many fat drivers out here. They don’t carry a lot of extra weight around. You’ve got to be an athlete to drive those things.”
Spurrier said he was able to mingle for a while before he was recognized.
“Once people started asking to have their picture taken, it was all over,” he said.
He continues to be the optimist, even though he inherited a Gamecocks team that went 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the SEC under Lou Holtz last season.
“The reception in South Carolina has been tremendous,” he said.
“Those fans are starving and real eager to have a winner. Spring practice was just a start. We believe we signed a lot of good freshmen, and we sort of think a lot will play.
“It was a good start. We got a lot of stuff in – offense, defense and special teams. We’ve got a pretty good team, but I’m not inheriting quite the team we had in Florida in 1990. We’ve got a lot of good players, but we [have] got a little bit of building to do.”