Tire Bowl Tune-Up

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – First they took laps around Lowes Motor Speedway located in the historical cradle of NASCAR; then the Tar Heels were put through their paces in the last full practice before Thursday's Continental Tire Bowl.

Fun is on the menu this week, as each and every player on both UNC and Boston College's roster got to ride shotgun at top speed in an "authentic" NASCAR racer on Tuesday. Some enjoyed it so much they went back for seconds.

"If the truth be known, I wanted to drive that thing," said quintessential country boy and All-America honorable mention fullback Madison Hedgecock.

Darian Durant

"They really push you back in the seat in the turns," said Doug Justice, who grew up a few miles from the Daytona 500. "It's the fun of a bowl. You get to focus when you need to focus – at practice – then we have time from five o'clock to midnight to relax, have dinner and just walk around and enjoy the city."

UNC coach John Bunting returned to the team hotel after practice, just in time to shower and get down to Champions Sports Bar and Restaurant for his radio show.

"I promised these guys a good time when they came down here, and that's what they're going to get," Bunting said.

Also on Tuesday, Carolina Football bid farewell to a bitterly cold mini-training camp at Country Day High School. UNC will hold a walk through at Bank of America Stadium Wednesday afternoon to put the finishing touches their game preparations.

The Tar Heels have not gone full contact since arriving in town Saturday night, although some more extensive hitting did occur on Monday, according to Jawarski Pollock.

"We're just fine tuning some things," Pollock said. "A bowl game is like the start of a new season. There are things we can build upon for next season. So we want to go out and win to give us a good start."

The Tar Heels and their skipper appear loose and unencumbered by pressure – just simply thrilled to be still playing football with the holiday backdrop and with a whopping home field advantage awaiting.

Baby blue is expected to engulf Bank of America stadium. The latest and most optimistic estimation is that as many as 65,000 UNC fans may inhabit the 73,258-seat venue shortly after kickoff.

"I haven't addressed that with them yet, but I did have the seniors get up and tell the team what this game means to them," Bunting said.

The pre-game theme seems to be while the Tire Bowl marks the opportunity for Carolina to put a triumphant crown on one of the most remarkable season turnarounds in recent memory; the non-BCS outing may be considered a mere afterthought to the Eagles.

BC expected to be 9-2 and headed to Tempe – before losing 43-17 to Syracuse, while the Tar Heels were happy to be going anywhere.

"I can't answer for them, but we're preparing hard for them and excited about playing them," Hedgecock said. "I can't tell you what they're thinking in their heads right now, but I know we're focusing on beating them. I'm just real excited about the opportunity to get back to a bowl."

Picked in the preseason to finish 10th in the 11-team conference by the league's sportswriters – following a 5-19 record the previous two years, the Tar Heels came within a three-point defeat to Virginia Tech from earning at least a share of the ACC title.

After a demoralizing 46-16 loss at BCS entry Utah, worsened by a litany of key injuries, Carolina licked its wounds during an off week before its fateful upset of then-No. 4 Miami.

But in a reversal of fortune eerily similar to the one that Bunting engineered after a 0-3 start in 2001, Carolina rebounded to earn a bowl invite in the nick of time.

Still, a 7-5 finish will memorialize the Tar Heels 2004 campaign far better than a 6-6 one, making "just getting there" not good enough.

"It would definitely be the icing on the cake," Hedgecock said. "After [the 2001 Peach Bowl], we really took a nose dive. So when we look back on this, we'll be able to say, ‘We got this thing turned around. We got it started.'"

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