As one of the rising stars on the NASCAR circuit, Joey Logano has legions of fans that follow his every move around the racetrack.
Away from the pits, the 20-year-old racing phenom follows his own sports heroes, including members of the U.S. Sled Hockey Team.
With the start of the NASCAR season less than a month away, there’s plenty to do before the rubber hits the road. Still, Logano managed to break away to spend time with the U.S. sledders and personally congratulate them for their gold-medal performance at the 2010 Paralympic Games.
It was also a chance for the players to thank Logano, his father Tom and the rest of the Gibbs Racing Team for the state-of-the-art sleds that kept them one step ahead of the competition.
“Coming from NASCAR, I know that great equipment makes you a better athlete,” Logano said. “You can be the best racecar driver out there, but if you don’t have a good car you’re not going to win races. I think it’s the same way in sled hockey.”
In addition to meeting with players and the coaching staff in the locker room of the Xtreme Ice Center in Indian Trail, N.C., Logano also hung out on the bench and watched as head coach Ray Maluta put the team through drills in preparation for future competitions, including the Japan Para Ice Sledge Hockey Championships, which takes place in Nagano in mid-March.
This year’s squad includes seven new players to the team, who were presented with state-of-the-art sleds from Dave Guess, the chief mechanic who created sleds for the rest of the team. Older players also used the time to have their sleds tuned up by Guess.
“The message Joey delivered to the players was that the Gibbs Racing Team and the Logano family are in it for the long haul,” said team general manager Dan Brennan.
“They do this because they believe in the athletes and they want to be a part of this. They understand that in such a competitive sport as sled hockey, like racing, the right equipment can provide the winning edge.”
Away from the glare of the NASCAR spotlight, Logano easily bonded with the players, reminding them that he started out as a hockey player in Middletown, Conn., before making the switch to the racing circuit.
For their part, the players peppered Logano with questions, from his recollection of past crashes to what it’s like to go so fast and race in front of so many people.
“At the end of the day it means a lot to have people like [the Logano family and Gibbs Racing Team] who respect our game and go out of their way to learn more about what we do,” said Alexei Salamone, a veteran of the U.S. program.
“I feel like we’re a part of their racing family, and they’re a part of our team.”