The Commercial Appeal
Rain delays Cal’s NASCAR debut, postpones race
Cup event rescheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday
SPARTA, Ky. — Rain kept Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari from driving the (fast) lane before Saturday night’s NASCAR race.
Initially slated to ride shotgun as the honorary pace car driver for the 400-mile Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, Calipari was asked to drive the Ford Fusion leading the 43-car field to the green flag.
Unfortunately for Calipari, showers forced NASCAR to postpone the race just after 8 p.m. CDT and reschedule it for 11 a.m. Sunday. The coach had expressed confidence that the race would be run, but he now must make another trip here and figure out how to make it up to his wife on their vacation.
“The good Lord knows how mad my wife is right now,” Calipari said before knowing he might have to take another vacation day.
Facing the music from his spouse could be even scarier than Calipari’s pace car tutorial from 2004 champion Kurt Busch.
His crash- course instruction included 90mph splits in the rain around the 1.5-mile oval by Busch, which had the coach “white-knuckled” and holding on tightly on the passenger side as the car came within inches of the outside retaining wall. Fortunately for Calipari, he only has to drive a more comfortable 45 mph ahead of the field.
“When I went 45 (mph), I wasn’t nervous,” Calipari said, “but when he (Busch) was going 90 and 100 (mph) in that rain, all these grooves are great, I’m thinking, ‘ Oh, my gosh.’
“I had one arm on the mirror grabbing it, and the other hand was on the window. He was flying, for me. These guys are used to it, but it was fast. And it was raining.”
Calipari got one perk, a specially-made racing jacket embroidered with the terms “eight-time” — referring to Kentucky’s eight national championships — and his trademark “Refuse to Lose” slogan. Drivers also signed the jacket, which will be auctioned for charity.
“I did it like a driver would have,” he said.
Calipari seemed happier at the prospect of being an active participant in NASCAR, a sport Calipari said he has followed since his days at the University of Massachusetts. The process involved. going on the thrill ride of his life.