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Race Around The Rink

by Ken Sins / Dallas Stars


NASCAR superstar Jimmie Johnson is accustomed to wheeling his Hendrick Motorsports ride around the track at breakneck speeds.

His skating skills are more modest, however.

 On Thursday, Johnson learned that lacing on the skates and practicing with Stars center Mike Modano can be a humbling experience. Johnson hadn't skated since he was a boy in Southern California, and he was pleased to simply be able to hesitantly glide around the rink at Deja Blue Arena in Frisco following a Stars practice without falling on his backside.

 Johnson and Modano met for the first time at the media event to promote the upcoming Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway north of Fort Worth. Johnson has won the last two NASCAR Sprint Car championships and is looking to become the second driver to take three straight titles. Among Johnson's trophies is a victory in last year's Dickies 500 at TMS.

Wearing a personalized Stars No. 48 sweater (his car number), Johnson was able to stay on his feet during his 20 minutes on the ice despite some jitters because there were so many reporters watching and so many cameras recording his efforts. He and Modano also participated in a staged faceoff, with TMS president Eddie Gossage playing the role of referee right down to donning a striped shirt.

"I went around and didn't hit the wall," Johnson said. "I wish all the cameras weren't here, that's for sure. But it's a blast. I like to see what goes on with other sports."

Said Modano: "He wanted to stay upright the whole time."

Later, Johnson tried his hand at shooting at a net with a target goalie. After a few pointers from Modano, Johnson was able to flip a few pucks into the openings. Then he attempted to pass to Modano, who launched a series of booming one-timers.

Johnson has faint memories of his first skating experience.

"I put on skates once when I was a kid," Johnson said. "In Southern California it's hard to find ice, period, let alone a rink. I remember (skating) once as a kid, but I have no memory of what took place."

 Johnson only follows the NHL when game highlights pop up on SportsCenter, but after meeting Modano, Johnson said, "I will be a Stars fan."

Modano hasn't kept up with auto racing with any regularity except for driving a Legends car at TMS about a decade ago, but Modano said his interest in the sport is higher now that he's met Johnson.

"This is the first time I met a driver face-to-face, so it's something I'll keep my eye on and keep tabs on," Modano said. "I learned about him, read about him. He's a nice guy."

Johnson sees some similarities between racing and hockey. "They're both team sports," he said.

But when it comes to trading punches, the sports take different approaches.

"(In hockey) guys can roughhouse each other more than we do on the track," Johnson said. "Punching someone (in hockey) doesn't cost you 25 points (in fines)."

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