Sunday, May 25, 2008 Updated: May 26, 12:04 PM ET
Pit stops a tall order for Yao
CONCORD, N.C. -- Pvt. Joshua Mincey was hoping to meet Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Yao Ming had his hands full trying to learn how to refuel a race car.
Instead, he strolled into the pits and saw Yao Ming changing the left front tire on the No. 45 Coca-Cola Dodge.
Yes, Yao Ming.
"It's my first time in the pits," declared Mincey, a National Guardsman from Lincolnton, N.C. "It's a good chance to have some fun out here and meet some racers. I didn't expect to see Yao Ming."
Yao, a five-time NBA All-Star with the Houston Rockets, and two-time Olympic taekwondo gold medalist Steven Lopez were in town to promote Coca-Cola's new Olympic campaign: "Connect With The World Over a Coke."
The promotion started at noon in Victory Lane, where Yao shot hoops with (and dwarfed) Cup veterans Michael Waltrip, Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty. (For the record, both Wallace and Burton bricked their first shots off the backboard, while Petty whiffed with his first try.)
From there, the Coke entourage reconvened outside the media center, where both Yao and Lopez worked with Petty's crew in simulated pit stops, changing tires on the No. 45 and learning Pit Stop 101.
Yao struggled to get his 7-foot-6 frame to the ground during his turn with the air gun, which prompted the crew's rear tire carrier, Donald Schenkel, to say Yao probably wouldn't be a good fit in that role.
"It'd probably be pretty hard for him to get low enough to see the lug nuts," Schenkel said.
With tongue firmly in cheek, Schenkel hinted that the team did consider recruiting Yao to work Sunday's race.
"Normally the catch-can man makes the adjustments at the back of the car, and you have to be tall so you can reach over the back windshield and make the adjustments," he said. "I think as gas man or catch-can man, he'd do a pretty good job."
Pvt. Mincey's assessment of Yao's effort on "pit road"?
"He did better than I would have done," Mincey said. "I was waiting for him to get into the car. That would've been hilarious."
Just as funny as Waltrip, Burton or Petty running the floor with the NBA's best, eh?
Yao, who also made a plea for earthquake relief in his native China, had some advice for the three drivers if they ever desire to pursue an NBA career.
"They have to stop driving like that," he told reporters afterward, "to get a guaranteed contract."