Park City • Three of the best drivers in the country — Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Chris Mazdzer — arrived at Utah Olympic Park on Wednesday eager to take their maiden bobsled run. But even as they pulled their black, full-face helmets over their head at the starting gate, the question lingered: Who was going to drive?
Would it be the veteran Hamlin, winner of three Daytona 500s and this year’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway? Or Wallace, a 28-year-old NASCAR darling who finished runner-up at this year’s Daytona race? Or would it be Mazdzer, the Olympic silver-medalist luger from Murray whose sliding experience probably made him the most logical choice.
Turns out all three had to take a back seat to Hunter Snow. The Salt Lake City resident has never won a NASCAR race or an Olympic medal but his six years of driving the bobsled for tourists at the UOP made him the best option. So, for once, those more famous drivers had to sit in the back, crouch down and try to enjoy the ride.
Hamlin described bobsled as “a mix of race car-banking Gs versus a roller coaster’s up and down.” Wallace, meanwhile, called it: “A little more erratic than driving a car for sure. Especially because you’re not in control. You don’t really know what to expect.”
But that was the purpose of Wednesday’s outing. Hamlin, Wallace and Mazdzer were among several Toyota-sponsored athletes from a wide variety of sports invited to explore Park City’s Olympic training facilities as part of a one-day crossover event intended to give them new experiences and newfound appreciation for other disciplines. They may not have been in the driver’s seat, where they were comfortable, but they weren’t just passengers, either. In addition to taking a bobsled run, many worked out at U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s new Center for Excellence and a few brave souls even attempted to ski jump into the UOP’s aerated pool.
“It’s fun,” Wallace said. “You ask a lot of questions. You prepare yourself, make sure you’re not walking into something super sketch. But I enjoy the thrill of it and getting to experience (something new). Toyota does a great job of crossing all the athletes over, bringing them together for events like this.”
Athletes like national team snowboarder Toby Miller, five-time Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long and Paralympic sprinter Jarryd Wallace joined in the mix. So did several NHRA drift and drag racers, including Fredric Aasbø.
Aasbø said he’s looking to get more out of the event than just a memory.
“One of my mentors back home is a ski jumper,” the Norwegian said. “So the mental component of ski jumping is very similar to drifting because we sit there and wait, wait, wait, and then — boom — you have about 20 seconds to shine. That’s very much the same as our sports. So there’s definitely a bunch of things to pick up and learn.”
The summer ski jumping setup drew the drivers in from the very beginning. The flurry of action across the UOP plaza caught Hamlin’s attention as soon as he arrived and his interest caused the group to make a short detour to the deck above the aerated pool. He stared intently as aerial and mogul skiers flung themselves off ramps of various sizes then splashed down, skis, boots and all, into the water below. Hamlin skis, but when asked if he wanted to try jumping, he shook his head resolutely.
Wallace, Mazdzer and Miller, however, were up for everything.
After squeezing into wetsuits and life jackets and getting fitted for boots and skis, the trio received instructions on how to jump from 2022 Olympic moguls skiers Hannah Soar and Kai Owens. Well, advice and a few words of caution.
“I think that the ramps are crazy to do,” Soar, 23, said. “I kept saying, like, ‘If I had to do it for the first time at my age now, I would not.’ Yeah, definitely not.”
Undeterred — they compete in adrenaline sports after all — or perhaps unwilling to go through the effort of peeling off the wetsuit, then clomped up the metal stairs to the top of the “mini” jump, the least menacing of the six ramps facing the pool.
Mazdzer went first. Dropping in from the top of the ramp, he almost pulled off a backflip before cannonballing into the water.
Next up was Miller, the only snowboarder of the bunch. He glided into his backflip so effortlessly, it could have been his 100th attempt rather than his first.
Finally, Wallace slipped onto the ramp. He sidestepped down a few feet, then gave a little hop to face the jump and began sliding toward it. Instead of popping up off the lip, though, then launched forward. Then, while looking as though he was desperately trying to roll down the windows of his No. 23 race car, he belly flopped into the water.
Wallace had a newfound appreciation for the sport, all right. And his only injury was a slightly bruised ego. So, as soon as he pulled himself out of the pool, he clomped back up the stairs to the ramp.
“My pride was shattered after that first one,” he said. “I had to go back and get it. And that’s what I did on that second one.”
His arms still fluttered wildly on his second attempt, but he landed bottom first instead of belly.
Wallace said at no point during the day was he nervous about trying anything, not the ski jumps nor the bobsled.
“I know I couldn’t be able to compete in [moguls]. I couldn’t compete in bobsleds,” Wallace conceded. “Would we all like to try like hell and attempt it? That’s all we can really do.”