TV's Ralph Sheheen Climbs Behind the Wheel
¿It is absolute sensory overload,¿ said the 38-year-old Sheheen who finished 16th in the Thunder Roadster feature on opening night. ¿I¿ve been involved in television coverage of motorsports for 15 years, but it¿s an entirely different experience when you get behind the wheel.¿
Sheheen said his venture into the cockpit was completely unexpected and began with a segment on 600 Racing¿s array of race cars for the syndicated television program ¿Steel Dreams.¿
The staff at 600 Racing was pleased with the attention Sheheen¿s segment received and developed the idea of putting him behind the wheel for the Summer Shootout Series. Sheheen then pitched the idea to his bosses at ¿Speed News.¿
¿It then went from a fun little segment on SPEED Channel to a full-blown deal,¿ said Sheheen who plans to compete in the entire 10-race series.
The next step was determining which division to enter. Having grown up in Northern California where open-wheel racing is dominant, the body style of 600 Racing¿s Thunder Roadster appealed to Sheheen. He also considered the highly competitive Legends Cars, but decided he would be better off racing a Thunder Roadster.
¿In the Legends Cars, I see so many young guys scrapping and battling to be the next Tony Stewart and I didn¿t want to be in their way,¿ Sheheen explained.
Though Sheheen has worked around race cars for many years, he knew he needed help and called upon veteran racer Curt Andrews to prepare and maintain his black No. 18 SPEED Channel Thunder Roadster.
¿Talking about race cars is one thing, but working on them is another,¿ Sheheen admitted.
Sheheen quickly learned his experience as a commentator actually does come into play when he¿s on the race track. During a heat race on opening night of the Summer Shootout, Sheheen was bumped from behind and got stuck in the outside groove. Via the two-way radio, Andrews told him to ¿minimize the damage.¿
Sheheen¿s time in the broadcast booth enabled him to understand Andrews¿ direction. He quickly got back to the bottom groove and salvaged a fifth-place finish.
¿It¿s definitely an eye-opening experience,¿ Sheheen stated. ¿Hopefully I¿ll be able to take some of the things I¿ve learned on the track back into the booth.
¿A lot of the competitors seem to have fun seeing me out there, and I¿m certainly having a great time out there with them,¿ he continued. ¿As a reporter, you can come down into the pits but there¿s nothing like getting down in the middle of the action and seeing all of the other competitors around you. I have a lot of respect for what they do.
¿I have no illusions of grandeur. I know I¿m not Jeff Gordon,¿ he added. ¿I¿m not going to battle for the championship. But if I can get out there and be competitive, then I will have accomplished something.¿
Lowe¿s Motor Speedway¿s Summer Shootout Series continues every Tuesday night through Aug. 12. Gates open at 5 p.m. with preliminary action at 5:30 pm. Feature racing begins at 7:30 p.m.
Adult tickets are just $5 with children 6-12 admitted for $3 and kids under 6 free. Tickets are available in advance from the speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS or at Gates 4 and 5A the night of the event. Parking is free.