KNOXVILLE — Legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt will be honored at Bristol Motor Speedway next month, and 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne is honored to be a part of it.
It was announced Friday at Thompson-Boling Arena that Bayne will drive an orange No. 60 Ford with ‘We Back Pat’ on the hood at the Food City 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Aug. 24.
“Growing up in Knoxville, I’ve been a Pat Summitt fan and a UT fan my whole life,” said Bayne. “We have the orange, white and light blue like the Lady Vols. To have a legacy like Pat Summitt’s on the race car, we have to work hard to live up to that legacy.
“She’s such a legend and leader. That translates beyond basketball; it’s important to racing or any sport. You have to be a leader and a role model, and that’s what Pat Summitt stands for.”
Summitt, who retired at the end of the 2012 season as the nation’s winningest college basketball coach, with 1,098 victories and eight national championships, will serve as the grand marshal for the race. It will be her first visit to the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile.’
“I have a number of friends and family who are big NASCAR fans, and we have been talking about the fun we will have cheering on the ‘We Back Pat’ car,” she said. “I am deeply touched by the support shown from the race, the participants and fans toward The Pat Summitt Foundation and our commitment to fight Alzheimer’s through awareness, advocacy and research.”
It’s just the latest in a long line of tributes to the Hall of Fame coach whose 38-year career ended after being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
President Obama presented her with the Medal of Freedom in May, and ESPN did an extensive video tribute Wednesday night as Summitt received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 20th annual ESPYs.
Presented the award by fellow University of Tennessee legend, Peyton Manning, and with her son, Tyler, by her side, Summitt talked about receiving the honor, which has been one of the top stories on both sportscasts and newscasts over the following days.
“I was very humbled,” Summitt said. “It was obviously a great event. It was very, very touching. We had a great time and it meant a lot to me.”
The coach added how she appreciates all the attention, but she doesn’t want it all to be about her, that she hopes to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s.
For the 21-year-old Bayne, it’s an opportunity to honor one of his heroes and at the same time, take care of some unfinished business. He was fourth in Nationwide Series points before his season was halted due to lack of sponsorship just five races into the season.
Bayne couldn’t think of a better place to return to the series than Bristol, which he considers his home track.
“It’s a fun race track. Even if it wasn’t my home track and it was out in California, it would be my favorite track, so much different than anywhere else we race at,” he said. “Going back there, I think we’re going to be pretty competitive. We’re going to run a new car, one that Ricky Stenhouse won the race earlier this season at Las Vegas.”
Bayne has plenty of reason for the optimism.
He started on the outside pole at Bristol in the Ford EcoBoost 300 in March and led 64 laps before winding up with an eighth-place finish after problems on a pit stop.
“Bristol is one race that we could go win,” Bayne said. “We’re definitely going after it harder than if we were running full-time. When you’re full-time, you just get in a rhythm. But this one, we’re really focused on and hungry to go win it.”
He is running a limited schedule in the Cup Series as well, next slated to compete in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford at Indianapolis. It’s speculated Bayne will take over Stenhouse’s full-time Nationwide ride next season, although car owner Jack Roush is yet to announce it, even to Bayne.
For now, Bayne joked his focus better be on the Bristol race with coach Summit on board, or he could get one of those icy stares which struck fear in the hearts of many former Lady Vols’ players.
“I don’t want her looking at me upset,” he said. “I want it to be a high-five. I don’t want that stare of doing a bad job.”