LOUDON, N.H. — Like so may NASCAR fans, Gunner Olszewski identifies Dale Earnhardt Jr. as his favorite driver.
Hours before the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, the New England Patriots receiver got to live out a dream.
Olszewski, an All-Pro punt returner last season, drove the pace car in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Prior to leading the field to green, the 24-year-old met Earnhardt, a NASCAR Hall of Famer who is one of the most popular drivers in motorsports history.
Perhaps Olszewski always would have rooted for Earnhardt. But as a kid, he really didn’t have a say in the matter.
“Growing up, you don’t really pick, it’s more of what your dad (likes),” he told NESN.com on Sunday. “My dad’s favorite driver was Dale Earnhardt Jr. So, whether we liked it or not, we had the shirts and the hats and the covers, and everything.”
That said, it wasn’t solely about what Olszewski’s father, Eric, wanted his sons to do.
“And I loved the dude, too, growing up,” the Alvin, Texas, native said. “Rooting for him always was fun because he’s a real good driver.”
As for driving the pace car, Olszewski admitted his practice runs earlier this month did little to calm his nerves before the big moment.
“I had the opportunity to come up here and shoot the promo video a couple weeks ago, where it was just me on the track,” he told NESN.com. “And I got to whip around as fast as I wanted to.
” … But, seeing how alive the place is now, little nervous. Got a little butterflies. Feels a little like gameday. I’m excited, though. I’m ready to roll.”
Speaking from experience, driving around New Hampshire Motor Speedway, otherwise known as “The Magic Mile,” is far easier said than done.
For Olszewski, it didn’t help that he received poor advice from a former teammate.
“I had some bad intel from (Julian) Edelman,” he said. “Edelman told me it was 49 mph, I found out it was 45. So, you always take everything he says with a grain of salt.”
Olszewski, signed in 2019 as an undrafted free agent cornerback out of Bemidji State, is set to enter his third training camp with the Patriots.