Two hours before kickoff for a Chiefs game last fall, fullback Anthony Sherman and his teammates could be found in the locker room, choreographing a touchdown celebration. These dances often come together on Friday afternoons after practice, but Sherman had received late notice that a couple of friends would be in attendance, one of them a member of NASCAR driver Kyle Larson’s crew.
So after Tyreek Hill caught a 63-yard touchdown in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers, there were Sherman and his teammates, treating Hill as though he were a race car in the midst of a pit stop.
“Big NASCAR fan,” Sherman said, adding, “That one actually came to us a couple of hours before the game. We got to do it in the locker room and try to figure it out, and (it) ended up working out pretty good.”
On Saturday, months after his friend in NASCAR visited the Chiefs, Sherman returned the favor.
Sherman served as the honorary pace car driver for the KC Masterpiece 400 at Kansas Speedway. And he brought a dozen of his teammates and general manager Brett Veach along with him to attend the race under the lights.
“Once these guys come down and see this stuff from their point of view, they become fans,” Sherman said. “I wanna say there’s 15 guys in our RV right now. We got a good showing tonight.”
It’s the fifth NASCAR race at Kansas Speedway that Sherman has attended, including the third consecutive at the track. But it’s his first time getting behind the wheel of the car.
His concern, he said with a smile, wasn’t so much the adjustment to the speed as it was getting his 242-pound frame out of the car. “Not so much getting in, but trying to finagle your way out of the car is a tricky situation.”
Sherman walked around the infield Saturday wearing a No. 42 hat — representative of his number with the Chiefs but also Larson’s car number. That connection sparked a friendship a couple of years ago, and Sherman remains friends with a member of the Larson pit crew. Perhaps, Sherman joked, he could one day join that crew.
“I’d like to say the jack man,” he responded when asked about his role. “In case the jack doesn’t work, I’d try to deadlift the car."
Before the race, Sherman was joined by another athlete who might be able to do just that.
Valentina Shevchenko, the top-ranked flyweight contender in UFC, served as an honorary race official Saturday. In attending her first NASCAR event, Shevchenko rode in the pace car and walked from garage to garage to meet some drivers.
In a matter of minutes, she spotted a similarity. Yes, a similarity between NASCAR and mixed martial arts competition.
“I think the drivers have the same mentality as the martial artists,” she said. “I think the drivers have the same concentration before their competitions that we (have).”
That word — concentration — is the operative word for Shevchenko on Saturday night. With UFC 224 also scheduled for Saturday, she acknowledged she will be skipping a fight involving bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes in which she normally would take significant interest.
“I cannot miss it,” she said of the chance to attend a NASCAR race. “Today is race night. I will totally be present in the place I am right now.”