September 12, 2011
By Kim Roberson
Hockey and NASCAR. They are two sports you might think have nothing in common.
One is played in the dead of winter inside on ice, the other races through the heat of summer outside tracks that commonly top well over 120 degrees, and in cars that are easily over 150 degrees inside the cockpit.
So what does a professional hockey player see in the sport of NASCAR?
John Erskine, who wears No. 4 for the Washington Capitals, is a NASCAR fan, and happy to admit it. He came to the Wonderful Pistachios 400 this weekend in Richmond, and I had a chance to ask him how he became a NASCAR fan in the first place.
Photo Kim Roberson
The Kingston, Ontario native says he didn’t know anything about the sport until someone said they were going to Pocono earlier this year, and wanted to know if he wanted to tag along.
“I got some friends back home in Kingston that were going to the race in Pocono, and they had tickets to that and said ‘Yeah, you should come along’, and I didn’t have tickets, so I did a few tweets (you can follow him at @johnerskine04), and there is a girl who works for our team, the Caps, her name is Katie, and she got together with a few people from Lowe's Racing, and they hooked us up and ever since then we have been NASCAR fans.”
When asked if that means he is a Jimmie Johnson fan, he smiled and said “Oh definitely. That is who we are rooting for tonight!”
What interests the 6’4” defenseman the most about NASCAR?
“The speed. I can’t believe they are going that fast, and they are literally millimeters from hitting each other," Erskine said. "The whole atmosphere. The fans are crazy. They just want to have fun. We got stuck at Pocono, we couldn’t get out after, and the guys are like 'Just go down into the infield and talk to the campers,' and they were nothing but great to us, they made us dinner and so it’s definitely the environment is really good.”
John's wife, Karie, joined him at the track, and when I asked her what she liked most about the races, she grinned “Honestly, the sound. I love it, I love it! It’s awesome!”
When I asked her about the difference between NASCAR fans and Caps fans (I am both), she said “There’s a lot more NASCAR fans, that’s for sure! And I’m super surprised, because I didn’t know anything about NASCAR 'till we actually went. It’s pretty exciting!”
As if to add an exclamation point to her comment, a short time later she posted to her twitter account “Ho Lee Sh^t NASCAR fans are insane... I love it.”
“We heard the smaller tracks and night races are the best, so we're here and going to experience that tonight,” commented Erskine.
“We hear it’s a great track,” his wife added.
On a more serious note, I don’t think anyone would question whether John Erskine is an athlete. But there are still many out there who refuse to consider NASCAR drivers as athletes. So I decided to ask him his thoughts on the debate, from an athlete’s point of view.
“They definitely are athletes,” he said quickly. “It takes a lot out of you going into that car and the bumps and the speed. I know some of those people with Lowe's were telling us that they have to do heat training because they are in that fire suit, and they lose up to 10 pounds per race. They are athletes. They have to keep in shape for this sport.”
With that, I let them depart for the rest of their race day.
Throughout the course of the afternoon, I saw the Erskine’s looking like kids in a candy store. They had their pictures taken with the winner’s trophy. They attended the driver’s meeting, and while they were cheered on by Caps fans and applauded by drivers when introduced during the meeting, their highlight was to meet Snookie from the “Jersey Shore”. They then were seen walking through the garage area, grabbing a drink from one of the haulers and enjoying the behind-the-scenes view to a sport other than their own.
Oh, and the Caps fan in me couldn’t let the Defenseman walk away without asking if they would finally make it all the way to the finals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
“We’ll be going all the way!” was his promise.
Follow Kim on Twitter: @ksrgatorfn
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.