CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It took Mike Greenwell 10 years to go
from the Green Monster of Fenway Park to the green flag of NASCAR
The former Red Sox outfielder hung up his glove in 1996 eager to
start a new athletic endeavor -- racing cars. After a decade spent
toiling around in late models, Greenwell will finally make his
NASCAR debut in Saturday night's Truck Series event at Mansfield
(Ohio) Motorsports Speedway.
"I retired very early," Greenwell said. "I hit .297 my final
year and I had 20 offers to go back and play the next year.
"But I wanted to go racing. I literally quit baseball so I
could go racing."
Greenwell, who hit .303 with 1,400 hits and 130 homers in his
dozen years with the Red Sox, wasted no time switching gears. He
returned to his home state of Florida and jumped into the Saturday
night scene, racing at the grassroots stock car level.
He wasn't bad, either, winning 37 races and the 2000 speedweeks
championship at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway. But he wanted to test
his skills against the best, and his longtime friendship with Truck
Series driver Todd Bodine opened the door for him.
Greenwell grew up a racing junkie, and got to know Bodine while
following the sport during his playing days in Boston. He became a
frequent visitor to tracks around the Northeast, and was delighted
when New Hampshire International Speedway opened in 1990 and began
hosting NASCAR events.
Racing was foreign to his clubhouse cronies, but Greenwell
worked hard to get his teammates to follow the sport.
"I was such a fan, I would tape the races and I actually got a
lot of the guys interested because of that," Greenwell said.
"Then when the Bahre family opened the track in Loudon, there was
so much press about it and it was really cool to the see the
fanatic fans of New England become interested in racing."
Greenwell stayed in touch with Bodine when he launched his
racing career, and the relationship helped him meet several other
drivers and contacts in the sport. Bodine had coaxed him to test in
a Busch Series car, and finally found the right opportunity for him
this season in a truck owned by Bobby Dotter.
If his debut goes well, Greenwell has plans to run two more
events this season -- including a return to New Hampshire in
Bodine has no doubt Greenwell will be a success, and insists he'll do
better than former NFL coach Jerry Glanville, who had a brief,
sub-par stint as a driver.
"Mike's real good, he's a racer who understands about
driving," Bodine said. "He's won a lot of races before and
championships. He's not a Jerry Glanville, a guy who came in here
wanting to be a racer and didn't know what he was doing."
But Greenwell doesn't have any grand illusions of wowing the
field Saturday night with a win.
"I am hoping to go there and be competitive and finish the
race," he said. "It's my first race against these guys, and there
is probably going to be more nerves than any other race I've ever
been in. Am I going to be able to just run laps? No. I am going to
have to race, and I hope to finish it."
Greenwell doesn't know what's in his racing future beyond this
three-race stint. He's 42 years old, and knows he'll probably never
make it to Nextel Cup racing. But a Busch race or two isn't so
far-fetched, nor is putting together a schedule of truck races.
But Greenwell doesn't want to do too many races that take him
away from home. He said his two teenage sons are excellent
athletes, and he expects 17-year-old Bo to be selected in the Major
League Baseball draft.
"This is more like fulfilling a dream for him," Bodine said.
"He has his family, and I'm not sure he wants to do this
full-time. But in the future, maybe he can be part of the sport as
a car owner, or a truck owner and maybe he might run three or four
races a year to have some fun."