Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis’ whirlwind year will take another turn – several left turns, actually – next weekend when the NFL’s reigning Man of the Year drives the pace car at NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
It’s the latest experience in an offseason that’s played out like a fantasy camp for Davis, who won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in January for his years of charitable work with children.
Davis was introduced on the field before the Super Bowl in Arizona, received a key to the city of Charlotte in February and was in Chicago two weeks ago to announce the Panthers’ first-round draft choice.
Davis confirmed Wednesday he’ll be behind the wheel of the pace car during Charlotte’s Sprint race May 24.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
“I’m going to go as fast as they allow me to go,” Davis said in a phone interview.
Nationwide, the presenting sponsor of the Man of the Year Award, was scheduled to make the announcement Thursday morning.
Davis will be certified Tuesday at the 1.5-mile oval. The process will include a short class, followed by a couple of laps around the track with a NASCAR official.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose primary sponsor is Nationwide, will take Davis for a ride in Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet.
Davis can get some tips from Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly, who drove the pace car last year for NASCAR’s Sprint All-Star Race in Charlotte.
“Luke is my brother. We bounce everything off of each other,” Davis said. “He was extremely excited to be pace car driver last year and I’m equally excited to be the one doing it this year.”
As cool as Davis’ offseason has been, he said he’s most pleased with the attention – and extra funding – his Defending Dreams Foundation has received as a result of his Man of the Year Award.
Nationwide has donated $100,000 to the cause, according to a company spokesman.
“I look at it like this: None of this stuff is really about me. Winning the award, partnering with Nationwide, all of that goes back to the community,” Davis said. “All of that is just going to improve the foundation, make us a stronger group and it’s going to allow us to do more in the community. That’s what it’s been about for us.”
Davis, 32, the only NFL player to have successfully returned from three ACL surgeries, touched on several other topics Wednesday, including:
▪ Announcing the Panthers’ first-round pick Shaq Thompson, who is expected to be Davis’ successor one day: “I’m not naive, and I’m not crazy. Eventually, there’s going to come a day where Shaq takes over the reins and he’s going to take over for my position. But for right now and the near future, it’s really set up to where you put three really fast, athletic guys on the field and we’re going to go out dominate together.”
▪ How long he plans to play: “I’m going on year 11, who knows how many years my body’s going to allow me to play this game? ... Just given the injury history and what I’ve had to deal with in the past, I can tell you right now I feel real good. I’m excited about this upcoming season and we’re looking to make a lot of things happen with the new additions we have on this team.”
▪ The status of the negotiations on his contract extension (Davis is in the final year of his deal): “It’s a work in progress. It’s something that both sides are working on, trying to get it done. We’re in a good place right now. It’s not something I’m stressing over, and I’m sure they’re not stressing over. It’ll eventually get done.”
▪ The four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady as a result of Deflategate: “A lot of people felt like it was going to be a slap on the wrist just because the relationship they feel Roger (Goodell) has with the owner of the Patriots, Mr. (Robert) Kraft. So I feel like he did a good job coming down and letting people know, ‘We’re serious about cheating, and we can’t let it happen in this league. We can’t allow people to create a competitive disadvantage by doing certain things. I think the message got across.’”
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson