Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, left, and San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore, right, a native of Kingsport, pose for the cameras at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. (Times-News photo by Jonathan McCoy)
BRISTOL, Tenn. — During Tennessee’s football practice on Saturday, new head coach Butch Jones was like a man possessed.
On Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, however, Jones morphed into a kid in a candy store.
“Very impressive. I’m hooked. I’m officially a fan,” Jones said as he prepared to execute his duties as the grand marshal of the Food City 500. “I’m looking forward to coming back for many more.
“It’s an opportunity to be a fan. You get to see all the great drivers walking around. I just finished up with Coach (Joe) Gibbs, talking about NASCAR and football and all that. I’m like a little kid today.”
Even though Jones claimed to be taking it easy on Sunday, he was still learning lessons that he hopes will help his football team as he prepares for his first season as the Volunteers’ coach. Jones said he noticed a common thread that runs between people who are successful in the racing world and those who excel in the world of football.
As it happens, Gibbs has had his share of success in both worlds, winning Super Bowls in the NFL and championships in NASCAR. Needless to say, Gibbs instantly earned Jones’ respect.
“There’s a reason why people are successful, and it’s never better illustrated than it is by coach Gibbs,” Jones said. “Getting to speak with different drivers and see the intensity in their eyes — at Tennessee we talk about the mental effort, and you can feel it as race time is approaching.”
As Jones looks to rebuild the Volunteers, he admits it won’t be an easy task. But he said he’s thrilled to have Dobyns-Bennett product Malik Foreman in the fold to help address some of Tennessee’s needs.
“We’re obviously very excited about Malik Foreman,” Jones said. “He brings so much to the table, and obviously it’s no secret that we need to improve our team speed and we need to improve our overall athleticism.
"He’s an individual who helps us. We’re just looking forward to getting him into school.”
Although Jones was reveling in his opportunity to be a fan, he said he’d have no problem flicking the switch and getting back down to the business of football by Sunday night. It’s a grueling schedule, but Jones said the rich tradition of the program he’s leading keeps him energized.
“I believe it’s the top college football program in America and we have evidence,” Jones said. “Since 1927, Tennessee is the all-time winningest college football program.
“But we’ve got to get those expectations back and it takes time. I understand we live in an instant gratification society, but things don’t happen overnight. It’s going to take time and it’s going to take work.”
MOVING ON UP: There was a time not too long ago when Daniel Kilgore was selling race programs in the concourse of Bristol Motor Speedway to benefit the quarterback club at Dobyns-Bennett.
But after playing for the San Francisco 49ers in the most recent Super Bowl, Kilgore came back to BMS on Sunday with a slightly better gig. Kilgore served as the honorary starter, waving the green flag to start the Food City 500.
It may seem odd for a guy who just played on the biggest stage in sports to be feeling butterflies in his stomach before waving a flag to start a stock car race, but Kilgore admitted the fear of being the first guy to fumble the flag was giving him a case of the nerves.
The big offensive lineman also admitted being a little starstruck as he walked around the infield on Sunday morning.
“It’s overwhelming. I’m very honored,” Kilgore said. “Being down here today, and being able to actually watch the race and be able to start it, it’s an honor. Seeing these drivers, because you always see them on TV, I’m actually able to walk up and see them in person.”
On the football front, Kilgore said the 49ers are focused on making the moves necessary to improve for the coming season. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick returning to run the read-option offense that propelled San Francisco to the Super Bowl, hopes are high.
Kilgore, who ran a similar offense in college at Appalachian State, said he isn’t as surprised as many folks that the offense has caught on in the NFL.
“I always knew that was going to translate for sure because it is a hard offense to game plan,” Kilgore said. “But for me, personally, it does help. I was in that same offense, really, and to be able to pick it up like I did, that has its advantages.”
YOU KNOW MY NAME: Driver introductions are unique at BMS because the drivers get to walk down a ramp to a song they selected and introduce themselves to the crowd.
Aside from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. informing all the guys in attendance that Danica Patrick was indeed taken and J.J. Yeley bringing the Harlem Shake to Bristol, things were relatively uneventful until polesitter Kyle Busch walked down the ramp.
As the boos cascaded down from the grandstands, Busch grabbed the microphone and said, “I may not be no Darrell Waltrip, but I sure as heck don’t need no introduction,” before dropping the mic to the ground with a thud.