NASCAR drivers bring awareness to cycling safety

NASCAR Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20) stands in the garage during practice for the Advance Auto Parts Clash At Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA Today Sports)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Aric Almirola all had their helmets on before sunrise last Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway.

While all but Almirola were going to compete in The Clash exhibition race later that morning, all joined part-time Xfinity Series driver Scott Lagasse Jr. in a 45-mile bicycle ride to bring attention to cyclist and motorist safety.

“That was a whole lot of fun,” Kenseth said. “I’ve been doing it for quite a while. It’s good to get out for something like that. Cyclists don’t do everything right all the time, so it’s good to get out there and make everyone aware.”

Lagasse, a longtime cyclist, started the Champions Ride for Bicycle Safety three years ago. Since then, athletes and celebrities have all joined in the ride that started at the speedway, traveled around Tomoka Marsh State Aquatic Preserve, then south back to the track on Ocean Shore Boulevard with the Atlantic Ocean as a scenic backdrop.

The group arrived back to Daytona’s Victory Lane at 10 a.m. — only 90 minutes before the start of the 75-lap race.

All drivers then participated in pole qualifying for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.

“I’ve been familiar with the cycling world over the years,” Elliott said hours before winning the pole position. “My dad (NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott) had an interest in it; I remember him growing up and riding a lot.

“Certainly, as I’ve been around Jimmie the last few years, racing against him, he’s introduced me to it. There’s days he’s rough on me; he’ll pedal me into the ground any day of the week.”

Lagasse, who lives an hour north at St. Augustine, is a longtime partner with the Florida Department of Transportation and its Alert Today Florida Program, and People for Bikes, a national cycling advocacy nonprofit in the interest of helping create a greater awareness among motorists for bike riders on Florida roads.

Lagasse was overwhelmed by the response that included 45 riders, especially since The Clash originally was scheduled for Saturday night and was rained out.

Despite the tight schedule, every NASCAR who committed to the ride showed up. So did several professional triathletes joined in with the motorsports stars, including former Olympians Jarrod Shoemaker and Dirk Bockel, 2012 Hawaii Ironman World Champion Leanda Cave and American Olympic-distance pro Kaitlin Donner.

”It’s humbling, honestly,” Lagasse said. “It was started as a grassroots movement to merge this cyclist and automotive safety issue. To see the level of people that have stepped up and help make this happen — guys like Jimmie and Matt, Aric and Chase, as well as Leanda Cave and these other champions, to see those guys show up.

“It’s a small little movement, but we hope to be making big moves in getting the message out to keep an eye out for cyclists. When you have guys like Jimmie and Chase out riding bikes, hopefully it helps humanize the cyclist and help some motorists sit back and realize the safety element, it’s on both our shoulders.”

Lagasse said it still was raining when he woke up for Sunday’s ride. He was shocked to hear everyone

“This is my baby, so I take it very personally,” Lagasse said. “I messaged Jimmie and he said ‘we’re all-in regardless.’ To know they’re that committed to helping make this happen, I’m so grateful.”

Menard warm to owning ice-racing team

Paul Menard grew up around racing. His father was a car owner and sponsor in the IndyCar Series, and the son has been driving in the Monster Energy Cup Series for the past 10 years.

But if Paul expands into being a car owner, the Wisconsin native would prefer it be an ice-racing team.

“I probably want to own an ice-racing team at some point,” Paul Menard said. “As far as NASCAR, I’m going to leave the door open. I have no idea, but whenever I do retire I’m definitely going to stay involved in motorsports. It’s a passion; it’s what I’ve always done.”

Menard said ice racing is something his entire family likes.

“My whole family is involved with this; it’s what we always do, so when that day comes I’m going to spend the season ice racing and go from there,” he said.

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