By Patrick Olsen on May 29, 2007
CONCORD, N.C. — Sure, Bill Cowher has stood up to pressure. The former Pittsburgh Steelers coach has won a Super Bowl and is known for having a tough attitude and sticking his chin out. So when we saw him at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C., for Gillette’s “Fast Cars & Superstars” (Cars.com is a sponsor of the show), we gave him this choice.
Option A: There’s less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, and New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady is coming on the field with the game’s outcome in doubt. Option B: You’re going into the first corner here at Lowe’s. Which do you prefer?
“Oh, I’d take Tom Brady right now,” Cowher laughed. “That’s more my element. This right here, they’re still walls. You can talk about how much they give, but they’re still walls.”
Cowher, who drives a Mercedes-Benz, is not exactly a car guy, but he does follow racing a little and understands the challenges involved, though he said he now has “a greater appreciation going through this process.”
That process was riding along with one of Gillette’s Young Guns, Ryan Newman. How was that first corner at Lowe’s, Coach?
“The first corner was unbelievable,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I have to be honest, it was a lot more than I expected. I didn’t think it would be that bad, but it was a lot of Gs that we were pulling.”
Cowher’s come a long way since his first car, a Chevy Nova that he drove along the back roads of Pennsylvania.
He said the little Nova didn’t start out as a beater, “but it ended up being that way." The race cars used in “Fast Cars” aren’t beaters, either, but they forced Cowher to learn something new. "I’ve never driven a stick, so this is what’ll be new for me.”
Now, there’s an issue. Obviously, all these race cars have manual transmissions. How will that affect Cowher’s strategy?
“Well, we’ll find out,” he said. “I haven’t gone out there yet. I got a quick lesson, and I’ll have a few more quick lessons. I don’t think it’ll be a problem, but we’ll see.”
Of course, once you manage to get into fourth, you’re OK.
“Well, that’s what I’ve been told,” he laughed. “I’ll just put it into neutral coming into the pits.”
Getting to the pits means getting successfully around the track, though, and the importance of avoiding those walls clearly made an impression on Cowher during his ride-along. Part of the coach’s strategy, he said, was finding a way to avoid joining the Coca-Cola and other signs that line the track.
“I don’t want to be another sign on the wall,” he said. “That’s my point.”
"Fast Cars & Superstars" begins June 7 on ABC.
Editor-in-Chief Patrick Olsen was born and raised in California. He loves pickup trucks and drivers who pay attention. Email Patrick