JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Joie Chitwood was drenched by the morning heat at the Jacksonville Jaguars OTAs Tuesday, but he had no plans of changing clothes before he drove back to work at Daytona International Speedway.
Wearing football cleats, shorts, football jersey and a Jaguars helmet, the speedway president and NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray took their sales pitch for the July 5 Coke Zero 400 to the football field. They went through 30 minutes of drills at the beginning of practice, each returning kicks and going through all the running and stretching drills.
Before practice McMurray also played catch with veteran quarterback Chad Henne and the team’s first-round pick, Blake Bortles.
Chitwood was so happy with the experience he decided to keep his football gear on for the rest of the day.
“I’m going to walk into the office (at the speedway)and see if anyone notices,” Chitwood said.
As the race draws closer, Chitwood continues to expand his comfort zone to bring in new fans. Unlike the Daytona 500 that draws a national and international crowd, the track counts largely on fans from North and Central Florida. And that requires a lot more work.
“This is a regional event, we focus on the Florida market,” Chitwood said. “We had Greg Biffle in town (last week) to install a seat (in the Daytona Rising construction project). We have Jamie in Jacksonville. We will have Aric Almirola in Tampa. He’s from Tampa and we’ll do some stuff with the (Tampa Bay) Rays. For us, we really want to focus on Florida and taking our star athletes out to these unique experiences.
“It’s a win-win for both sides.”
Instead of competing for entertainment dollars, the sports industry now embraces an attitude of working together. The Jaguars also work closely with the PGA Tour and The Players Championship, with Jaguars team president Mark Lamping admitting, “High tide raises all ships.”
“We’re in the promotion business,” Chitwood said. “We have to get people off their couches and attend live sporting events.
So whether it’s a Jacksonville Jaguars football game or the Daytona 500, we’ve got to do things like this so fans know how cool it is to attend games.”
Drivers who win races and are part of NASCAR’s Winner Circle Program, a promotional agreement, are required to make three track-related appearances a year. McMurray said Tuesday’s practice was the best one he’s done in his 12-year Sprint Cup Series career.
“This is the best appearance I’ve done at a track so far,” he said. “It’s so much different when you get out there as opposed to watch you see on television. The coach, all the players have been awesome to work with.”
McMurray isn’t the first driver to attend a football training camp. Joey Logano made an appearance at the Detroit Lions OTAs last week to promote Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.
Carl Edwards also has gone through football drills.
“It’s crazy how big all the guys are and then to see how small some of them are, too. You see them go up against each other, going for the same piece of property. It’s different when you get to see it up close,” McMurray said. “I didn’t put myself in any danger. Me, I was a stranger coming in and they made me feel like I was part of the team. I was having a good time. I wasn’t really pushing. All the drills they do look easy until you do them. It requires a lot more coordination than you realize.”
McMurray tried to introduce himself to most players. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley was comfortable having Chitwood and McMurray in uniform, working next to his players.
“I know in terms of us we have great respect for what they do and hold them in high regard as far as what Jamie has accomplished through his career,” Bradley said. “It was great to have him out here and experience what our guys are going through. It was an awesome deal to be a part of.”
Jacksonville will wrap up their OTAs and their mini-camp in time for the Coke Zero 400. Jaguars players will be invited then to come to McMurray’s arena – a 2.5-mile racetrack – to get a feel for his playbook.