With three big sporting events on the ESPN networks originating from Atlanta this weekend, ESPN college football announcers Brent Musburger and Lisa Salters took a 200 mph look at one of the sports today at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Musburger, who will call ESPN on ABC’s telecast of the Virginia Tech-Alabama game Saturday night from the Georgia Dome, and sideline reporter Salters went for high-speed rides around the 1.5-mile superspeedway in a special two-seater stock car with NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin at the wheel.
Hamlin will compete in Sunday night’s 500-mile race that will air live on ESPN. In addition, ESPN2 will have live coverage of Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at AMS.
And Hamlin, an avid fan of college football, especially his homestate Virginia Tech Hokies, will attend Saturday night’s game, where Salters will interview him on the sidelines. Since the Nationwide Series race starts nearly two hours before the game, the race will be shown to fans on the big screens at the Georgia Dome prior to kickoff, and race fans will be able to watch the end of the football game on similar screens at the speedway after the race concludes.
Musburger, who hosted ESPN’s NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage in 2007, had been for a ride around Daytona International Speedway with former NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip more than 20 years ago, but after emerging from the two-seater race car today said “he (Waltrip) wasn’t cranking on it like Denny did today.
“They asked me if I wanted to go down to the speedway and go for a little ride, and I said sure that sounds like fun, but little did I know that they’d be putting the pedal down to the metal like that. I rode with the Blue Angels once and I knew not to eat a big lunch today.”
Musburger said his biggest feeling of uneasiness came when Hamlin brought the car to the top of the speedway’s 24-degree banking, only inches from the retaining wall, the normal racing line at AMS. “He told me one thing I needed to know about this track was that they’re always looking for something ‘up top’ to go faster, and when we were out there it was like ‘Whoa! We’re up top!’”
Salters, also a reporter for ESPN’s E:60 newsmagazine, climbed from her car smiling and said she had a similar feeling during her three-lap ride when Hamlin came close to the wall. “It was exciting and scary,” she said. “I was thinking that I have no control over what happens. I couldn’t imagine doing that if there were other cars on the track.”
Previously a correspondent for ABC News, Salters was asked to compare the fear she felt during her ride to other experiences in her career. “I’ve been in war zones, and I’ve been in some bad neighborhoods in the United States,” she said. “I’d have to say this is near the top.”
Musburger, who while a student sold tickets at the first Daytona 500 in 1959, said he keeps up with the sport and expects the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to be a battle between Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.
“One thing I’ve always said about NASCAR drivers is that they are so close to their fans and sponsors, they do the best job of any athlete that I’m aware of,” he said. “When you get to the end of an exciting NASCAR race, there’s nothing like it in sports.”
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