Panthers head to the track for bonding experience Print
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Thursday, 07 June 2007 11:23
NFL Headline News

 CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -The Carolina Panthers are taking a different track in attempting to bounce back from a disappointing season.
The race track, that is.
In what coaches and players hope was a bonding experience, the Panthers took a field trip to Lowe's Motor Speedway in nearby Concord on Wednesday. Players took turns riding in stock cars going upward of 180 miles an hour and were still buzzing about the experience as they walked off the field after Thursday's optional workout. Few were spared from embarrassment.
``I don't mean to call anybody out, but James Anderson told me he was about to cry before he got into the car,'' center Geoff Hangartner said of the 232-pound linebacker.
``We have video of you throwing up, Michael Gaines,'' quarterback David Carr told the tight end. ``Want me to show it?''
The ride along was another event in a unique week for the Panthers. Last Friday, five key players - quarterback Jake Delhomme, receiver Steve Smith, defensive end Julius Peppers, tackle Jordan Gross and running back DeShaun Foster - went to owner Jerry Richardson's house and played a variety of sports, including 3-on-3 basketball and tennis.
Players and coaches feel they need to get closer after last season's struggles. Carolina started the year with Super Bowl hopes, but went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
``It didn't feel like 8-8,'' Delhomme said. ``It felt more like a 4-12 or a 3-13.''
Hangartner believes spending time together away from the practice field and weight room is an important element to turning around fortunes.
``The closer you are as a team, the better you're going to play together,'' Hangartner said. ``The more you like each other, the more you trust each other. It definitely shows on the football field. Any kind of team-building stuff is always good to do.''
Panthers coach John Fox wanted to keep the trip to the track quiet. Cameras and reporters weren't allowed. It was just the players and the professional drivers.
``We're coming off the pit and the guy's probably going 100,'' Hangartner said. ``It looks like he's going to ram me right into the wall. At the last second he pulls a little wheel turn and then the bank kind of carries you around the corner. It's pretty sweet.''
There was concern some of the linemen wouldn't be able to squeeze into the cars. Former Charlotte television sports anchor Chuck Howard, who helped with the event, told players if they couldn't fit, there were larger Mustangs they could ride in.
Then Howard pointed to a nearby 18-wheeler.
``That was for Kris Jenkins,'' he said.
The rotund Jenkins wasn't there. He's been the only player to miss this month's optional workouts. But minus Jenkins, the Panthers have been a cohesive unit the past two weeks.
Even if some got queasy as they climbed into a stock car.
``I told the guy, 'I hope I don't throw up''' Delhomme said. ``He said, 'Just aim that way. Aim out the window.'
``How fast were we going? I don't know, 180ish? I don't know, but it was the fastest I've ever gone.''
 

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