“I’ve always liked hockey, you almost have to growing up in this area,” said Keselowski, who grew-up in Rochester Hills, Mich., and graduated from Rochester High School in 1999. “I always liked playing street hockey, but never really got into doing much regular ice hockey. But when we were kids, we played street hockey and always watched on TV.”
Hockey wasn’t Keselowski’s calling, but auto racing has been in his blood since he learned to drive dragsters before he received his driver’s license. And while the Red Wings continue to be his passion outside of his profession, he wanted both of his worlds to collide.
Last week, Keselowski -- who is in his second full-season on NASCAR’s Nationwide series -- came up with the idea to outfit his No. 26 Dodge in Red Wings’ colors and logos.
|Brian Keselowski's No. 26 Dodge |
“We were seating around and thought, ‘We don’t have a sponsor this week. We don’t really have a lot going on. It would be really neat if we could go to Charlotte and just say hey, I’m a Red Wings’ fan,’ ” said Keselowski, whose younger brother, Brad, won the Sprint Cup race at Talladega in April.
“As soon as I told everybody that this was what we wanted to do, everybody got all excited,” said Keselowski, 27. “Everybody stayed late and we got the car wrapped by ourselves. It was a complete decal wrap, which was something none of us had done before. We all learned on the fly.”
Keselowski always wanted to play hockey, but the family business always took precedent.
“I was working on the race team and going to high school,” he said. “I would leave high school and fly to race and go work on the race team and then come back to high school. That’s kind of why I didn’t get to play a lot of sports when I was actually home.”
Keselowski said that he and his brother became big Wings’ fans in the early 90s, and while the racing season that runs from early February through November makes it tough to attend games at Joe Louis Arena, their allegiance hasn’t wavered.
“When we first were getting back into playoff contention with (Steve) Yzerman, back in ’94 when we lost to San Jose,” Keselowski said. “Ever since then I’ve been pulling for the Red Wings. And then they started getting a little better, then they got Scotty Bowman and started winning and it kind of escalated from there.”
The night before the Charlotte race, Keselowski and his Michigan contingent, including co-owner Dusty Whitney, watched Game 3 of the Western Conference finals and cheered on the Wings.
“We had a motor home set-up there and we had big screen TV pulled up outside and everybody was going by, even the Carolina fans were booing us for watching the Red Wings’ game,” Keselowski said. “But it was a neat deal.”
With the Wings’ logo on the hood, “Go Wings” on the quarter panels and “Hockeytown” across the rear fender, Keselowski finished 30th in the Carquest Auto Parts 300 in Charlotte, N.C., last Saturday.
“It’s a neat thing, especially since they’re in the playoffs right now,” he said. “It was something that I’ve wanted to do for all of our sports teams. I’m a Detroit sports fan. Right from top to bottom -- the Tigers, the Lions, the Pistons, the Red Wings – all of them. I always thought this would be kind of a neat deal.”
This week, the Keselowski team, which runs out of a small garage in Pinckney, Mich., is headed to unfamiliar territory when they participate in the Heluva Good! 200 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.
“Every track is so different and Dover certainly is one of them,” said Keselowski, who is making his Dover debut. “They call it the ‘Monster Mile’ because it’s a complete concrete race track. The place is treacherous.”
For the Dover race, Keselowski will use a back-up Dodge while his first car, which suffered some damage in Charlotte, is repaired.
“The plan for Dover is to run all of the same logos on the car, but it will be an all black car, because we don’t have time to wrap the whole thing,” Keselowski said. “But it will be a neat deal because (it will look) like the (Red Wings’) practice jersey.
“Because of the timing factor with the race that we just ran and trying to get ready for this one, we had a different car set up for it. By the time we could have done some of the race repair from the last race it just wasn’t going to get done in time.
“I have a Lidstrom jersey that is all black from a few years ago and I really like that, so the car should look pretty neat in all black.”
After 10 starts this season, Keselowski has earned more than $235,000 and is ranked 25th among 92 drivers in the Nationwide series. His goal is to qualify for the Sprint Cup series, and he’d like nothing more than to do so while representing Hockeytown.
“I have two cars that I take to every track and I’m trying to make it into the Show with both cars,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep racing ourselves, but we’re not a real big deal, but we’re all from Michigan and we all want to show our Red Wings’ pride.”