Russ Smith saved his best for last, leading the University of Louisville to the NCAA men's basketball championship this past season. The 6-1 guard from Brooklyn averaged a team-best 18.7 points per game, including 22.3 PPG in the tournament. Rather than turn pro, he's returning to school for his senior season, aiming to be the first member of his family to earn a college degree. Smith visited Kentucky Speedway, where he appeared with Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip at the unveiling of a Cardinals-themed car for that weekend's Sprint Cup event.
Have you ever been around auto racing?
This is different for me. When I got to Louisville, all I knew was basketball. I didn't know baseball, football, anything. ? Then I met a few baseball guys. My trainer taught me a little about baseball. At prep school I met a few guys who played soccer, and then got close with the soccer team and learned about that. I was at the (Indianapolis) 500 last month -- I didn't actually go to the 500, but I was at the speedway the day before that. So I'm catching on as I go.
You only got your driver's license earlier this year. Are you used to being around fast cars?
I don't like fast cars. I don't drive fast cars. I like to watch other people drive fast cars. In my own SUVs or vans I like to go fast, because I can control that. But these cars are something else.
How did you get by without a license?
I've had a permit since I was 16. ? But I've been very lucky and thankful to have one of my best friends live with me, and he's had a car. And we're together all the time. And coming from out of state, I had to wait six months before I turned 21, and we were in the middle of the season in (a tournament in) the Bahamas, and it was just too much. But in the offseason I turned 22, and I had a chance to situate my life and put it in order and get my license.
How did you do on the driver's exam?
I think I just passed. I had a few mistakes. The parking brake thing on the hill, that got me. Making a U-turn, I forgot to put my blinkers on making a U-turn. But that was it, I think.
Did you have a notable first car?
I had one back at home. I had a '73 Cadillac. Yeah. It was about a headlight short of the government taking it front me. It had no headlights, the brakes were bad. But it got me through New York.
Do you ever watch racing on television?
I'll watch it on ESPN. Sometimes I really don't know how fast they're going. It's like watching basketball -- sometimes you don't know how fast like Derrick Rose is, or a running back is in football until you watch it. When I was Indiana and I had a chance to hear the cars -- not even see, just hear the cars -- I was like, that's incredible. And then you're in your little car are you try to go 90, and you're like -- no, this is too fast. I better slow down. You're not supposed to do that, but it's really amazing how these guys do it, and it's really an honor to be a part of something like this.
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