U.S. Olympic speed skater Brian Hansen is used to performing on the edge.
On Sunday, he led the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 40 drivers to the green flag at Kansas Speedway as the honorary pace car driver for the Hollywood Casino 400.
Hansen is a two-time Olympian and won a silver medal in the men’s team pursuit at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
He is currently training for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but this weekend he has been introduced to a different type of speed.
Earlier in the week, Toyota Racing treated Hansen to a thrill-ride on the high banks of Kansas Speedway. He also learned how to do a J-turn while on the track.
While he is by title a speed skater, this was something unlike anything he had ever experienced.
“Even going at 100 or 90, however fast we were going on our hot lap, I was impressed with how much force we were having going through the turn,” Hansen said during a press conference Sunday morning.
He also got the opportunity to meet Daniel Suarez, driver of the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Hanging out with Suarez gave Hansen a new appreciation for stock-car racing and even identified some of the similarities between racing on paved tracks and racing on the ice.
While both speed skating and NASCAR are sports that emphasize going fast, often times the sheer speed is not what is most challenging for the drivers.
“When I mentioned that to Daniel Suarez earlier he said it’s really not about the speed, it’s about the fact that you have 39 other cars out there and there are some visibility issues,” Hansen said.
With multiple competitors involved in both sports, sometimes you don’t control your own destiny and you race on the edge, just inches apart from each other.
“Same with speed skating, we go into many turns where you’re kind of on the edge of whether or not you’re gonna make it through,” Hansen said.
“It’s a tight turn and you’re holding it. You’re set up so that basically you hit the tightest route around the turn and then you add other people in there, especially for an event like the mass start in speed skating.”
With no prior experience in stock-car racing, Hansen admits that his experience at Kansas opened his eyes.
“I absolutely have a ton of respect for what they’re doing,” Hansen said. “NASCAR has a new fan now.”