PHOENIX -- Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo both have dipped their feet into the auto racing pool, Carter Hutton was admittedly a newbie.
They braved the sweltering 90-plus degree heat in front of 80,000 fans at the Phoenix Raceway to see Ryan Newman claim the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway.
And all three had the time of their lives and take with them a myriad of memories they'll never forget.
"I thought we were spoiled," Hutton said. "NASCAR was amazingly treating us great. They had two reps that brought us around, Derek and Mary, and answered every question, showed us all the behind-the-scenes, unique things that go on that you would never know. For me, I didn't really know much about NASCAR. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"... I didn't know a ton about it, so I started at the top. It's definitely going to be hard to go back and watch from the stands now, but it was cool and what goes into it, the amount of money, time, effort, behind-the-scenes. Obviously the drivers are similar to like a quarterback or your star pitcher. They're in the limelight, but there's a lot more moving parts that make everything work and just how important every detail is. The sport's constantly evolving."
All three got to take in the race track in a pace car before the event.
One wouldn't imagine Parayko as a racing fan hailing from St. Albert, Alberta, but when Tom Parayko, Colton's father would flip on the television at home, young Colton grew attached.
"Yes, huge NASCAR fan," Parayko said. "Just through my dad. He kind of watched every Sunday. Growing up, it was just something I got brought into. I've kind of been following it and you just gain an appreciation of the sport when you actually get to go and see what they put into it and how much effort and everything that's kind of behind the scenes.
"That's my first (NASCAR race). I've had the opportunity to go to IndyCar. I've been to maybe 10 of those, but never NASCAR. The way that they set it up, we had a couple ushers the whole day and they pretty much took us through everything, from the driver's meetings, the suite, went through a couple team trailers. We got pretty spoiled, that's for sure. We definitely took advantage of it because you never know if you'll get that opportunity again.
"It's a different crowd, but when you kind of look around and see everyone there and see how many people come to the event, it's like a full weekend thing, especially race day when there's 80,000 people. I don't even know if that's a big race compared to some of the other ones that are over 100,000."
Pietrangelo, also an IndyCar fan, called Newman's win, his first since July 28, 2013, or 127 consecutive races when he took a risk and continued his race on old tires for two overtime laps while others made necessary pit stops.
"I actually did pick the winner, that's all I'm going to say," Pietrangelo said with a big grin. "Great opportunity. I've been to IndyCar. That was my first NASCAR opportunity to walk the pits and meet the drivers and walk through their garage. I got introduced to all the drivers before. Great weather, great day, good company. It's always fun these off-days to get to experience something you don't get to do very often."
The players got to meet racers and pit crews and were also acknowledged at the driver's meeting, which had the pronunciations of a couple of the names turn into a challenge.
"Oh yeah, 'Petro' and 'Perry' ... I think it was like 'Alex Petral and then Colton Paray,'" Hutton said laughing. "They knocked mine out of the park. It was actually unique. A lot of drivers came up to us and just shook our hands and thanked us for being there. At one point, I had hollered over at Ryan Blaney, that's Parayko's favorite driver, and obviously he's too shy to open up his mouth. So I yelled over at him and he thanked us for being there. I think it's good. You don't realize how many people are fans of hockey. It's definitely quite the fanfare. A lot of RV's, people like stay out there, so it was cool to see for sure."
St. Louis' own Kenny Wallace, a big Blues fan who attended Saturday's 3-0 win over the Coyotes who retired from NASCAR in 2015, was also on hand as part of NASCAR on Fox's coverage.
"We had front row seats in the driver's meeting and we were introduced to everyone," Parayko said. "The crew chiefs, the drivers. ... It was unbelievable. We were just expecting to go to the race, but we got to go in the pits and it actually turned to be a really cool day. We were really fortunate that way. A couple drivers came up and said hello after. As soon as they come up, you get a little respect for them obviously. It's just like anyone. It goes to show that they're great people, a great group to be around and a great sport."
If Hutton wasn't a fan before, he sure is now.
"I think for me seeing it on TV before didn't do it justice at all," he said. "I think now understanding more and just understanding the speed these guys have, it almost becomes robotic these guys are so good. They're so close to each other and they're so close to the walls in high speed and it's amazing what they can do with the car. One thing I thought was so interesting was the recruiting like ex-division I basketball (and) football players to work in the crew pit because want just great athletes to be fast and they train together. They usually have four sets of pit teams that train against each other all week just to get ready. I think pit seconds is only something like 12-13 seconds and they work so hard at the trim time. It's pretty awesome to see. They have their strength and conditioning coaches, their chefs are with them and all the stuff that goes into it. Before I thought they just wheeled up with the car and someone put gas in it and they're good to go. The science behind it is very unique and just the constant evolve to try and cut the time."
"It was hot. It's pretty remarkable what these race drivers do," Pietrangelo said. "Any time I've had an opportunity to watch a sport live, You get a real different appreciation for it. To see the temperatures that those guys drive in, what they do to prepare for a race is pretty cool to see."
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