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Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Driving 101: Edwards vs. Westwood

By David Newton
ESPN.com

Edwards-Westwood
Sprint Cup driver Carl Edwards, left, and PGA Tour star Lee Westwood strike a pose at zMAX Dragway.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Lee Westwood lined up his tee shot as he'd done countless times before and stroked it down the middle of a black, asphalt fairway as he'd never done before.

The unofficial distance of this monstrous shot was about three-quarters of a mile -- about 1,278 yards, or about 1,000 yards longer than the British golfer normally hits a driver -- when the ball finally stopped rolling where the asphalt turned to what is known as the sand trap at the end of zMAX Dragway.

Carl Edwards was nearly speechless.

"Holy …" the Sprint Cup star said on Monday as the former No. 1 golfer in the world launched the ball into orbit.

Westwood smiled.

"I'm in my comfort zone again," he said.

For most of this afternoon that brought the world of professional golf and NASCAR together, one of these stars was out of his comfort zone. Although both make their living at driving, the way they go about it is as far apart as a pair of knickers are from a firesuit.

Edwards/Westwood
Lee Westwood, right, helps Carl Edwards line up a drive down the asphalt strip at zMAX Dragway.

The event was a promotion by UPS, which sponsors Westwood on the course and Edwards part time in the cockpit. Westwood is in town for a PGA event at nearby Quail Hollow Club, where the surroundings are a lot greener and quieter than the drag strip.

Edwards stopped by on his way to New York City for a Tuesday appearance on "Live with Kelly and Michael" before heading to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., on his way to Talladega Superspeedway, which is anything but quiet on or off the track.

Each took turns teaching the other how to drive in his respective sport. On the nervous meter, Westwood got the nod for keeping it together outside of his comfort zone.

He picked up quickly driving a makeshift road course on the drag strip parking lot. He even did a burnout that ended prematurely with a stall-out.

Nevertheless, Edwards gave his counterpart a grade of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, although he easily could have given deductions for struggles climbing through the window into the seat. There was a time when Westwood seriously wondered if he'd have a chance to drive because he couldn't get behind the wheel.

He actually drew blood hitting his head while exiting the passenger side after Edwards took him for a test spin.

"Didn't you ever watch 'Dukes of Hazard,' where you slid across the hood first?" Edwards said with a laugh.

Edwards actually was more nervous riding in the passenger seat with Westwood driving than Westwood was at any moment.

"If you had a heart-rate monitor on me on that [being a passenger with Westwood driving the road course], it probably would have been higher than his," said Edwards, who doesn't like being the passenger for anybody.

Westwood was so comfortable that he would have tackled the 1.5-mile track at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway had there not been a Nationwide Series test there.

"It's worse sitting on the first tee of the Ryder Cup than that was," quipped Westwood, currently ranked 12th in the world, of tackling the road course.

Edwards was more noticeably nervous hitting the golf ball. That's understandable. He doesn't play golf. He doesn't own golf shoes or clubs. Westwood owns and drives his own car.

Lee Westwood
Lee Westwood drives Carl Edwards' Sprint Cup car on a makeshift road course as Edwards gives pointers.

"I was definitely more nervous doing this," Edwards said of hitting the golf ball. "I guess because there were people watching and cameras. It's embarrassing to be so bad at something."

Westwood didn't rate Edwards, which was a good thing. It took Edwards eight attempts before hitting a drive that wouldn't be out of bounds or more dangerous for groundhogs than birds. It was safer being a cone on the road course with Westwood driving than a spectator lining the drag strip with Edwards driving.

"It's a reminder of how good people can be at something," Edwards said. "He could hit that golf ball a hundred times and it would land damn near the same place every time. It would be 20 years to get that good."

This also was a reminder of what it's like for an athlete to get out of his comfort zone. So very few can be like Bo Jackson and excel professionally in two sports, as the former Auburn star did in football and baseball.

And for the record, as comfortable as Westwood seemed getting on and off the throttle, he probably was going 60 or 70 mph tops with nobody else on the course. He was about as ready to tackle Talladega as Edwards was Quail Hollow.

"It doesn't look like there's much going on, really," Westwood said before the exhibition began. "It's like you put your foot down as far as it will go and just keep turning and hopefully your car goes faster than everybody else's.

"I'm sure there is a ton more that goes into it. They obviously make it look easy, which all top-class professional sportsmen do. It's whatever you're comfortable with. If you're taken out of your element, then you find things difficult."

As much as what Westwood and Edwards do differs, they actually have a lot in common. Westwood has been at the top of his profession, taking over for a while the No. 1 ranking in the world from Tiger Woods in 2010. He has won tournaments on every major continent, with 39 victories worldwide.

Yet he's never won one of the coveted majors -- Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA -- by which professional golfers are measured, despite coming close several times.

Edwards has 20 victories in the Sprint Cup Series and ranks second in the 2013 standings behind five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Yet he's never won one of NASCAR's majors -- Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Darlington's Southern 500 and Indianapolis' Brickyard 400 -- or a title by which drivers are measured, despite coming close several times.

And yet both are considered among the best in their respective sports.

"I'm sure he goes into every tournament and feels like he's the best golfer there and he's going to go win the thing," Edwards said. "That's how I feel every race.

I'm drawing the line at backflips. I'm not doing the backflip.

-- Lee Westwood on Carl Edwards' signature victory celebration.

"I didn't know that about him. It makes me like him even more to know he goes out there and digs every day."

But this day was about having fun, and each found a way to do that. There were plenty of comical moments, beginning with Westwood's trying to get into the car.

At one point, Edwards called for a knife -- nobody asked why -- as he leaned into the driver's-side window to help Westwood get fitted. When done, Edwards said, "You're on your own getting out."

One of the funnier moments came as the two stood outside the No. 99 Ford Fusion and talked about whether Edwards would let Westbrook drive him around CMS.

"I'd do the passenger seat on the big track," he said. "I'd need a HANS [Head and Neck Restraint] device."

Said Westwood, "What's a HANS device? Is it like a takeover control? An ejector seat? James Bond?"

Edwards could only laugh.

He wasn't laughing when he realized the power switch didn't turn off the engine, which was his plan if the throttle stuck with Westwood heading toward the fence that Roush Fenway Racing teammate Travis Pastrana took out in a Global Rallycross car last year.

"I have control issues," Edwards said. "That [experience] was good therapy for me."

Said Westwood, "I'm just pleased I got out of the car."

"No blood or anything," Edwards responded.

Edwards did try to scare Westwood before climbing into his car.

"Did anybody explain to you the brake issues we've been having?" he said. "It looks like the only thing we could hit out there are those light poles."

Westwood didn't flinch, although he admitted "it's kind of weird when you see the ambulance parked to the side."

There was only one thing that Edwards does that truly made Westwood nervous.

"I'm drawing the line at backflips," he said of Edwards' victory celebration off the top of his car door. "I'm not doing the backflip."

When the day was done, both were ready to go back to their respective jobs with a newfound respect.

"No matter what you're competing at, you want to do well," Edwards said. "And when you're not well prepared, it makes you nervous."