Georgia, Louisville players get taste of Speedway as part of Belk Bowl festivities

Louisville tight end Matt Milton is a self-confessed speed freak and Formula 1 fan, and admits to hitting three times the speed limit while riding in a Ferrari.

But even Milton was in awe after turning laps of more than 160 mph in a NASCAR stock car Saturday during the Belk Bowl’s annual track day at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’ve been driving fast all my life, but that’s a different kind of fast,” said Milton, a redshirt senior. “I wasn’t scared at all, but it was certainly exciting.

“I’ve been 170 (mph) before in a Ferrari F430 Scuderia, and I told the (stock car) driver that, but his 160 (mph) felt a lot faster than that.”

The stock cars, supplied by the Richard Petty Driving Experience, are former race-used NASCAR Sprint Cup cars, with engines tuned to deliver about 600 horsepower – far below the 850 horsepower produced by the current generation of NASCAR engines.

While the 160-mph laps run during Saturday’s track day were nowhere near the fastest laps turned at CMS – the track’s Sprint Cup qualifying record is 198.771 mph – the players and coaches couldn’t tell the difference.

“It definitely gets the blood flowing a little bit,” Georgia tight end Jay Rome said. “You’re leaning, especially when you’re going around the curve. You’re leaning one way, and the car’s going the other way.

“The curves are probably the funnest part, because you can really feel how fast you’re going.”

In fact, the head coaches of the two Belk Bowl teams – Georgia’s Mark Richt and Louisville’s Bobby Petrino – got a better feel for what a NASCAR race was like.

When Richt and Petrino turned their laps – traditionally, the head coaches go first in each group – they were joined by a second car that took turns passing and being passed by the coaches’ car.

“I didn’t realize there was going to be another car with us,” Petrino said. “I wasn’t nervous when I got in the car, but that certainly changed when we took the first turn.”

“I was fine until we started passing each other,” said Richt. “That was a little bit of an experience. Having a car in front of you, just 2-3 feet away and at that speed, makes it a little real.”

The track day has become the best-known of the perks that teams participating in the Belk Bowl enjoy. It’s also become the most popular, eclipsing the Belk shopping trips and other activities.

“It’s certainly something our players were talking about,” Petrino said. “There was a group of guys who were here a few years back (when Louisville played N.C. State in 2011) who were telling everyone about it.

“Everybody was looking forward to today. I just wanted them to really enjoy the experience. This is one of the rewards of getting to go to a great bowl like this.”

Sunday’s schedule: Several players from Georgia and Louisville will spend the morning at Second Harvest Food Bank and at Levine Children’s Hospital visiting patients.

Following the team’s final practice session that afternoon, Louisville’s players will enjoy a shopping spree at Belk’s SouthPark store, while Georgia will have a team dinner at Chima Brazilian Steakhouse.

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