Driven on Sundays, but Never in the Heat of Competition

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Given its enormous size and shiny black paint, it would have been hard to miss the '67 Lincoln Continental convertible parked in front of the W Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz.

It was a polished head-turner, and the Nascar driver Denny Hamlin, in town that early March weekend for a Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, could not help noticing. He took a picture and posted it on Twitter.

"I knew it was the car that was the same body type and everything of the car in 'Entourage,' " Hamlin said, referring to the suicide-door Continental used in the HBO television series. "I always liked that car."

A few days -- and about $50,000 -- later, he owned it, having wrapped up a quick negotiation with the owner. Hamlin then piled in some friends for an impromptu 300-mile road trip to Las Vegas for the next race in the Sprint Cup series. Top-down all the way.

All of which suggests that Nascar drivers aren't driven by speed alone. They're car people, too. With his spur-of-the-moment purchase, Hamlin joined a select group of current drivers who also own classic cars.

Among the stalwart members of that group are Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. It's not only the veteran drivers who own vintage models, though -- even 23-year-old Joey Logano has caught the bug.

Newman might be the leader among this pack of current Cup drivers.

He said that his collection was around 17 or 18 cars, including a '31 Ford woody, a '39 Hudson and breakthrough models like a 1949 Jaguar XK 120. He also has a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible that was a gift from his wife on his 30th birthday in 2007.

A standout among his holdings is a 1957 Dodge Super D 500, powered by a 325-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 with dual four-barrel carburetors, "which is pretty rare, because it's a stick shift," Newman said. "They were all push-button automatics back then."

Unlike some of the other drivers who own classic cars, Newman likes to restore them, too.

"There are cars that I have that are 100 percent restored that I bought like that," he said. "There are cars that I've bought that needed to be restored, and there's cars that I have that need to be restored, and there's cars that I have that never will be and they're just originals.

"I just like 'em because they're cool and I can work on them," Newman said.

Johnson, on the other hand, laughed when asked if he got under the hood of the 1949 Chevrolet pickup that he drives around Charlotte, N.C., where most of the drivers live during the season.

"It's a '49, still-original cab -- it has the five windows," Johnson said of the truck he uses most days."I love that truck.

"Work on it? Come on, are you crazy? I put gas in it, put air in the tires."

Logano said he didn't do much work on his vehicles, either. He owns a 1972 Chevrolet Suburban, but he especially prizes his 1959 Cadillac convertible, white with a red interior.

"I just love 'em, I love 'em," Logano said. "Huge wings on them. I feel like it's an icon-type car.

"Everyone kind of recognizes that car," he continued. "Late '50s -- it's a boat. It's heavy, it's huge. You drive the thing, it's rolling all over the place. It's so much fun to drive."

Logano said he learned to appreciate classic cars growing up in Connecticut. His father, Tom Logano, owned a 1962 Corvette that he let Joey drive when he was only 9 years old.

That turned out to be a mistake when Joey asked to move the car to the front of the house before they went out for ice cream one day.

"I'd driven it a million times -- which was funny, I was 9 -- but around the neighborhood," Logano recalled. "And so I just parked it in front of the house, went and started shooting hoops. Came back like a half an hour later, the car's gone. Where's the car?"

The car had rolled off the side of the driveway, into a tree. "Totally destroyed, killed it," Logano said, before reconsidering. "Well, I didn't kill it, but it was pretty bad.

"I thought I had it in gear. But it wasn't, like, actually in the gear. To this day, every time I park, the brake's coming on, that thing's definitely in gear. I learned my lesson that day."

Logano's collection is limited compared with some others. Stewart owns numerous cars, including several that were posted on Facebook as part of a promotion with Mobil 1 oil, one of his sponsors. Among them is a bright orange 1955 Chevrolet Nomad station wagon.

Earnhardt Jr. recently added a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442 to an extensive collection dominated by Chevrolets from as far back as 1948. It's not just history that draws Earnhardt to classic cars; it's personal history, too.

"I think I'm just really nostalgic about certain times," Earnhardt said. "Certain cars remind me about a time in the sport or a time in my life. I thought it was unique to me that the first stock car that I drove was a street stock that was a '79 Monte Carlo. That car meant a lot to me, because I remember when I lived with my mother, when I was about 5 or 6 years old, riding in the back seat of her '79 Monte Carlo.

"You just sort of take a car," he said, "and it puts you back in a place in time or reminds you of something."

autonews

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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