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Fast laps are part of Belk Bowl participants’ week of fun

- slyttle@charlotteobserver.com
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013

Antrione Archer was content to be a spectator Tuesday as players and coaches of the two teams competing in Saturday’s Belk Bowl football game took 170 mph laps around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I did it last year,” said Archer, director of player development and chaplain for the University of Cincinnati, which is playing in the Belk Bowl for the second straight year. “I’m not doing it again. I remember those turns.”

Players and coaches from UNC and Cincinnati were treated to the laps and more Tuesday, courtesy of the NASCAR Driving Experience at the speedway.

The idea is to make Charlotte’s Belk Bowl a destination for top college football teams and their fans, and the game’s participants are treated to a week of fun. For veterans on the Cincinnati Bearcats roster, Charlotte is a popular destination.

“The Belk committee does this first-class,” Archer said. “They make us feel welcome.”

Linebacker Nick Temple of Indianapolis said the Bearcats “like coming to Charlotte. It’ll be a good game. We like playing in Bank of America Stadium.”

On Monday, Belk officials treated players to a shopping spree. Luncheons and parties also are on the participants’ schedules, plus a fan festival Saturday, leading up to the 3:20 p.m. kickoff.

Several players said Tuesday’s trip around the speedway’s 1.5-mile racing surface was certain to be a highlight.

“It was incredible,” said Tar Heels defensive back Ryan Mangum of Raleigh. “You get pushed back in your seat. And on that turn, you get close to the wall.”

Mangum, like Cincinnati’s Archer, was referring to how close the replica race cars get to the wall as they exit the fourth turn.

“It was crazy,” Tar Heels wide receiver Dalton Stogner of Dallas said. “You’re this far (holding his thumb and index finger an inch apart) from the wall.”

Since the game typically is on the Saturday after Christmas, it means players and coaches from the two teams usually spend the holiday away from home.

“This is my third year of it,” said Cincinnati’s Nick Temple. “It was hard on my family the first year. But they understand it now.”

Teammate Jeff Luc, a linebacker from Port St. Lucie, Fla., said being in Charlotte for Christmas is part of winning.

“It’s a sacrifice we pay for being successful,” Luc said. “But it’s worth it. It’s what we want.”

Luc said he’ll have family in Charlotte for Christmas anyway.

“These guys,” he said, pointing to teammates enjoying lunch at the speedway Tuesday, “they are family.”