By Brian Rice KNOXVILLE, Tenn.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- A lot of things have changed since the last time Trevor Bayne set foot on the practice fields at the University of Tennessee.
Long before he piloted stock cars around tracks at 200 miles per hour, before earning a spot in one of NASCAR's most historic rides and before he piloted that famous Wood Brothers' No. 21 to an upset win in the Daytona 500, Bayne was just a 10-year old that loved Tennessee football. Like many boys of 10 in the Knoxville area, Bayne came to Phillip Fulmer's youth football camp.
Fast forward more than a few years, and Bayne was back on campus, gazing out the windowed wall of the upper level of the Anderson Training Center down on that same indoor practice field.
"Back then, I didn't know if I wanted to be a NASCAR driver or a football player," Bayne said while touring the complex on Wednesday afternoon. "After walking through here today, seeing some of the players, I'm glad I chose racing because I stopped growing."
Size aside, the decision to pursue racing has proven to be the correct one for the Knoxville native, who is back in the area for this weekend's racing action at Bristol Motor Speedway.
While racing for the Wood Brothers, Bayne became the youngest winner of NASCAR's most prestigious event with his victory at Daytona in 2011. Since then, he has raced full time for Roush Fenway Racing in the Nationwide Series while running a limited schedule for the Wood Brothers in the Sprint Cup Series. RFR announced in May that Bayne would move up to run a full Sprint Cup schedule in 2015.
Bayne and wife Ashton now make their home in Charlotte, North Carolina, but were excited to be welcomed back to familiar surroundings Wednesday.
"I always love coming back home," Bayne said of Knoxville. "I normally only get to see my family and friends, I don't normally get to walk around the UT campus and tour the football facility, This has been awesome today. We love seeing all of the orange and the Power Ts everywhere."
Bayne added his name to a list of successful professional athletes and coaches that have visited UT since Butch Jones became head coach in December 2012. It's a list Jones is always excited to add a name to.
"It's surrounding yourself with successful people," Jones said of Bayne's visit. "Trevor being from Knoxville and coming back, it means everything for us. That's what's special about being at the University of Tennessee and being in this Knoxville community."
As a football fan, Bayne was blown away by the "wow" factor of the UT facilities. As a workout fanatic and frequent triathlon competitor to keep his body tuned for the rigors of the long NASCAR schedule, he was equally impressed with its functionality in developing athletes.
"This whole place is super impressive," Bayne said. "For young students and future student-athletes, it'll blow your mind a little bit and exceed expectations. The workout facility is unbelievable, having been around a lot of workout facilities along the way from NFL teams to NASCAR teams, this was one of the best I've ever seen."
Physical development wasn't the only parallel that Bayne saw between his team at RFR and the Volunteers.
"I think the coolest thing about this place is you can tell there's a common theme," he said. "Everyone believes in the same thing and it's all about Tennessee Football when you walk around in here. When you walk into the team room and see all of those chairs and know that all those people have to believe in the same thing to be successful."