LOUDON, N.H. - For the second consecutive year, two Bruins players traveled north to Loudon, N.H., as guests of the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the annual Overton's 301 NASCAR race.
Last summer, New England natives Frank Vatrano and Noel Acciari visited the track and met with Roush Fenway Racing's Greg Biffle. On Sunday, it was time for Brandon Carlo and Tim Schaller to take their turn getting up close and personal with NASCAR's athletes during a VIP tour of New England's largest racetrack.
Schaller, who hails from Merrimack, N.H., has been a NASCAR fan since his childhood.
"My Dad got into NASCAR, so I joined along with him," said Schaller, who grew up attending races at the speedway with a particular rooting interest.
"My favorite driver is Kurt Busch, and he's pretty good out here," Schaller said prior to the race. "So, hopefully, he has a good day today."
Unfortunately for Schaller, Busch - the driver of the No. 41 car - was not able to capture the Overton's 301 Lobster, awarded to race winner Denny Hamlin. He did, however, finish a respectable eighth out of 39 participants.
Schaller and Carlo started their day at the track by meeting briefly with the media during an introductory press conference.
The two then headed over to pick up some gear at the race's merchandise stand, before participating in a fan Q&A session.
Later in the afternoon, the duo took a tour of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s No. 17 hauler, where they met Roush Fenway drivers Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne and discussed the differences between hockey and racing, including scheduling and training regimens.
After chatting with the athletes, Schaller, who entered the day with a strong base of NASCAR knowledge, was surprised to learn about the level of fitness they have to sustain.
"They're professional athletes just like us," said Schaller. "They've got to take care of their bodies. It's a long race out there and they've got to stay hydrated and all that stuff."
"We have a respect for them as being another athlete along those lines," added Carlo who took a particular interest in the training routines not only for the drivers, but also for the pit crews. "They talk very highly about the rest of their crew and I think that's pretty cool."
After the tour, Carlo and Schaller sat front row for the prerace driver's meeting, where they were introduced to all of the racers and their pit crews before rules and regulations for the competition were addressed.
Also recognized during the meeting was New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator and honorary pace car driver Josh McDaniels, who stopped to chat with Carlo and Schaller on several occasions and show them his lavish new Super Bowl ring.
McDaniels, Carlo and Schaller spent a few minutes conversing before being introduced during the pre-race ceremonies, where they greeted all of the race's 39 participants, including the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Danica Patrick.
The last stop after the pre-race ceremony was to the Stenhouse Jr.'s pit area, where the two climbed up into the pit box and put on headsets to get a first-hand glimpse at the race and listen in on the communication between Stenhouse and his crew.
For Carlo, an athlete in a sport where cohesion is required, the tour around the facility and opportunity to speak with the drivers made him realize how much of a team sport NASCAR really is.
"I didn't know that much about driving," said Carlo. "I thought it was mainly just the guy in the car. But, today, I learned that it's a lot more than that."
Safe to say, Schaller has a new NASCAR fan on his team.