Former UFC light heavyweight champion and UFC Hall of Fame fighter Chuck Liddell will lead the field of 43 cars to the green flag in the next to last race of the 2014 NASCAR season, the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500, at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 9.
“Chuck obviously has a ton of name recognition and is a hugely popular figure not only in the mixed martial arts world but throughout all sports,” PIR spokesperson Zac Emmons stated in a press release. “There is a good bit of crossover between MMA fans and NASCAR fans.”
Liddell isn’t the first UFC fighter to serve as honorary pace car driver at PIR. Former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz drove the pace car in the November race in 2012. Chael Sonnen and former lightweight champion Benson Henderson drove the pace car during the two NASCAR races in Phoenix in 2013.
With this season’s change in championship format, the race at PIR has gained increasing significance. It’s the last race before crowning the 2014 Sprint Cup Champion and will determine the final four drivers that will compete for that title in the last race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway the following week.
“I can’t wait to get behind the wheel and pull out onto the track with the best drivers in the world at Phoenix International Raceway,” said Liddell. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what NASCAR drivers do, and to have the opportunity to lead them to the green flag in the semifinal race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be a huge honor.”
PIR’s commitment to the UFC and mixed martial arts is more than simply having fighters drive the pace car, the racing complex has sponsored Benson Henderson for his UFC 164 title fight against Anthony Pettis and planned to sponsor Dominick Cruz for his UFC 148 trilogy against Urijah Faber before an injury forced Cruz out of the fight. Both Cruz and Henderson are Arizona-based fighters.
“Our fans seem to really enjoy seeing those guys come out to the race,” Emmons said. “So when the opportunity to invite Chuck presented itself that was an easy decision for us.”