WATKINS GLEN – Steve Tasker's familiar with getting up on Sunday mornings and preparing for another day of intense competition. He did it at an All-Pro level for years on special teams during his career with the Buffalo Bills.
On this Sunday morning, however, he experienced what it's like on race day instead of game day.
Tasker served as the honorary pace car driver for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling at the Glen race, leading a field of 37 noisy, powerful NASCAR stock cars to the green flag.
Sunday's race was Tasker's first NASCAR event. He brought his family to The Glen so that they could soak in the NASCAR race day experience with him.
When the race cars pulled out of pit road to begin the pre-race pace laps, Tasker was behind the wheel of the pace car while in radio communications with NASCAR race officials. Then the big moment came as Tasker led the cars out of the last turn and then pulled onto pit road as the starter's green flag unfurled and the field took off toward Turn 1 in a thunderous roar.
Once on pit road, Tasker brought the pace car to a stop and quickly made his exit and NASCAR Cup Series official pace car driver Brett Bodine, a Chemung native, jumped aboard to handle the pace car responsibilities for the remainder of the race.
What was driving the pace car like for Tasker?
"You don't want to look in your rear-view mirror," Tasker said. "They can close ground on you in a hurry. It was fun. They told us we were going to do four pace laps and we got three in and you look back on that fourth pace lap and you could just tell by the body language of the cars that it was the last lap before green and that they were ready. The drivers were all over the place. I was glad to get out from in front of them."
Earlier on Sunday morning Tasker spoke about how this Sunday was different for him.
"This is a little different," Tasker said. "It still has the feel of a big event. There's tons of people and this is even more weekend oriented. There's a whole weekend of activities here whereas football is just a three-hour game for the NFL. What an awesome facility here at Watkins Glen.
"I have never been to a NASCAR race. I watched some NASCAR on television and I watch the Indy 500. A good friend, Mark Kelso (also a former Bill) works within NASCAR. He's a fountain of information, so I ask him the questions and he's got all the answers.
"What's different is that when the NASCAR drivers put on their helmets they're hoping they don't hit anything. As a football player when I put on my helmet I was looking to hit someone every time."
Tasker prepared for his pre-race moment with a dry run in the pace car Sunday morning with NASCAR official Buster Auton providing instructions. The practice run left a big impression.
"I just drove the pace car for the first time and I didn't realize the cruise control is a crucial part of the whole thing," Tasker said. "It works good. It was great. What a great track. It's beautiful to drive around it. The countryside is great and there's like a zillion people here to so it's a blast."
Bodine once drove asphalt Modifieds at both Lancaster and Holland speedways and has been the NASCAR pace car driver since 2003.
For many years former Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly was involved with NASCAR teams in a management role. Tasker was aware of Kelly's love for the sport.
"I knew Jim was involved with it but he's the last guy I'm going to ask questions about NASCAR to," Tasker said laughing. "Kelso's the guy I go to. I bust Jim's chops all the time about being in it but Jim's way into NASCAR as well."
Tasker knows all about special teams and on Sunday he left The Glen feeling that NASCAR has a special team of its own.
Kelso involved in NASCAR
Speaking of Kelso, the former safety and current Bills radio analyst was here Sunday. He's a team manager with No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger ClickList Chevrolet driven by A.J. Allendinger. He was busy Sunday with a variety of sponsor-related activities.