Aug. 8, 2012
By Bruce Madej
Auto racing has made Brad Keselowski what he is today. But he's not just one of NASCAR's top young guns, he is also Michigan's biggest football fan on the racing circuit.
"My interest in Michigan football really started with my cousins across the street," said Keselowski. "They were huge Michigan football fans. When I was seven or eight years old, I would stay with them when my dad and mom were out of town racing [his father, Bob, was a 1997 race winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series]. We'd watch Michigan football every Saturday afternoon during the fall. That is where my love affair for Michigan football started."
Even though his first memories of the Wolverines are from his early years, it was the 1990s teams with Tyrone Wheatley and the two Big Ten championships he remembers following closely. It was then his passion for U-M football really took hold.
Today, the Rochester Hills, Mich., native is sticking with his roots as he travels the country. He proudly follows his favorite college football team despite finding himself in a sport that has a strong southern heritage.
Next weekend, Keselowski will race twice. On Saturday, he will run the No. 29 Cooper Standard Ram Dodge truck in the VFW 200 and then on Sunday, his Penske Racing No. 2 Dodge Charger will be on the starting grid for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race, the Pure Michigan 400 at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
Currently in seventh place in the Sprint Cup series point chase, Keselowski lets his mind wander just a little whenever he's in southeastern Michigan. His football team is just 40 minutes down the road and if he had the opportunity, he would happily trade a practice session on the two-mile oval for a day with Team 133. Unfortunately, it won't happen this time around. Between preparing for the two weekend races at MIS and attending the Clio (Mich.) Auto City Speedway Appreciation Night in his honor on Thursday, Keselowski has little time to make another trip to Ann Arbor.
|Talladega Superspeedway Victory Lane following the Cup race on May 6.||New Hampshire Motor Speedway Victory Lane following the Nationwide Series race on July 14.|
In August of 2008, Keselowski had the opportunity to attend a Michigan football practice. Shadowed by an ESPN crew and reporter from The Detroit News, he watched practice and talked with coaches, players and staff.
Discussing Michigan football is second nature for Keselowski. And just like any Wolverine fan, when he has the opportunity to talk with Michigan legends, it is a special moment. In the past two years, Michigan Men have been the Grand Marshall of the August race at MIS. Two years ago, he met Lloyd Carr and last season, he had a quick discussion with Desmond Howard.
"I would love to spend more time with Lloyd," said Keselowski. "I really enjoyed talking with him and hopefully on another day I'll get the chance to sit down with him again."
As for Howard, Keselowski also follows him on Twitter -- @DesmondHoward.
"Outside of @umichfootball, he's the only other Michigan account I follow," said Keselowski. "I have so much respect for him -- how he played the game, his business career and he has a great personal life too. I would love to get to know him better."
The NASCAR weekend racing schedule doesn't give Keselowski much time to attend Michigan football games. In fact, he has attended only two at Michigan Stadium: one was a non-conference game in 2009 and last year he watched U-M defeat Ohio State. Even though his weekends are on the fast track, he still schedules time to follow each U-M game.
"I record the games and watch them after the racing is completed," said Keselowski. "I am a big fan of Saturday night games for Michigan. I can watch them live. The Notre Dame game this past year was a lot of fun for me."
|Kissing the bricks following the Nationwide Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 28.||Burnout following the Nationwide Series win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.|
Keselowski is also big into social media and especially Twitter (@keselowski). This plays a major role in how he keeps track of Michigan football. With instant updates of games, it's difficult to get through an entire day without knowing the result, but he tries.
"I am on Twitter so much, I guess it's my fault too," says Keselowski. "Even if I find out what happened, I still watch the replay of the game."
Keselowski also understands that rooting for U-M among his NASCAR counterparts sets him apart. With NASCAR's roots in the south, the college football teams of choice are primarily south of the Mason-Dixon line. Thus the Alabama-Michigan Cowboy Classic in Dallas is generating a lot of interest.
"I don't know how I will be received in Talladega," said Keselowski about the NASCAR Race in Alabama the first weekend of October. "If we win that game, I am going to wear my `M' hat -- that should be interesting."