- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 16, 2011

TALLADEGA, ALA. (AP) - For one afternoon, Jamie McMurray and Scott Dixon weren’t professional drivers with high stakes on the line and thousands of fans watching their every left turn.

They were just guys getting to drive real fast.

NASCAR’s McMurray took a few laps around Barber Motorsports Park in suburban Birmingham in Dixon’s No. 9 Target Honda Indy car on Wednesday.

“That was way more fun that I thought it would be,” McMurray said.

Then, they headed 30 minutes away to Talladega Superspeedway, where IndyCar’s Dixon climbed behind the windshield of McMurray’s No. 1 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.

“It’s like a Cadillac. It’s so smooth,” he told McMurray before tackling the unfamiliar task of climbing out a car window.

The car-swapping was part of a promotion for races at both tracks on back-to-back weekends in April. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is April 10, followed a week later by the Aaron’s 499 down I-20.

The drivers exchanged plenty of tips and observations, and drove each other around their respective tracks in a much bulkier Tahoe before the runs. McMurray said he prepared by watching clips of the Birmingham track on YouTube.

Both McMurray and Dixon drive for Chip Ganassi, and both brought his cars back to pit road intact.

McMurray did have a low-speed spinout on Turn 10 at Barber when he said he was going about 30 mph. OK, it wasn’t exactly a Talladega-style crash.

“I wasn’t really even pushing the car when I spun it out,” McMurray said. “I was actually just kind of cruising there. I stepped on the gas a little quick and I don’t think the tires were warmed up enough. The car just had so much more acceleration than I expected. That’s the one thing that really stuck out to me.”

He freely admitted he got the better end of this deal. Dixon didn’t have the often harrowing, side-by-side, bumper-to-bumper Talladega experience flying around the tri-oval solo.

His one hitch: Stalling out on pit road at the start.

“It probably would have been more fun for him to drive our car at Barber because you could have done a little bit more,” said McMurray, who won last year’s Daytona 500. “I was actually shocked at how excited he was when he got in. It’s the same thing for me. I was nervous when I got to Barber, pulling into the track. Your nerves start kicking in, and I could tell Scott was completely relaxed.

“Then when we got here, we pulled in and I was very laid-back and I could tell that Scott was tense. I thought it was interesting because what seems easy to me, is not. It’s unique and it’s different. He actually even away from the camera was really excited about driving the car.”

McMurray said he thought not having a cage or windshield would have been the strangest party of driving Dixon’s car, but that was an easy adjustment. He said the only previous time he’d sat in an open-wheel car was a 1997 version of Ganassi’s at a Christmas party.

“I just wish I could have seen a little better,” he said. “I kept trying to lift myself up in the car so I could see where I was going. It’s just a really, really fun race car to get to drive.”

Dixon had to adjust to having a roof and a windshield and the challenge of squeezing in and out of a Sprint Cup car.

“They’re definitely pretty hard to get in and out of,” he said. “I thought ours would be more difficult but you just come from the top and slide, here you’ve got to ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ style and slide through the window. And then get your legs in, and there’s things you can hit your head on.”

The 33-degree bank was also impressive. By comparison, the Texas Motor Speedway has among the steepest turns on the IndyCar circuit at 24 degrees.

Dixon said he even worried that the Tahoe was going to roll on the preliminary tour around the tri-oval.

“This place is massive,” said Dixon, a two-time IndyCar Series champion. “I’ve spoken before (about) how Indy is large as well but just the sheer size of this and how it’s spread out. When you’re going out there, you feel really lonely by yourself. It would be nice to maybe have a few other cars out here and maybe take the restrictor plate off to see the full power of these kinds of cars at a track like this.

“I really enjoyed it. It was a definite eye-opener. Definitely a fun, fun thing.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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