Greg Biffle exited his car along the shores of Fox Point in Newington, N.H., and smiled. "This is amazing," said the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver. "Reminds me of home in Washington." That smile wouldn't leave his face for what was a picture-perfect visit to the seacoast of New Hampshire on Wednesday, where Biffle made a series of stops in preparation for the SYLVANIA 300 - the second race in the Sprint Cup Championship first round - on Sept. 21 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Dressed in "Official NHMS" waders, Biffle learned how to shuck oysters with Laura Ward of Fox Point Oysters in the Little Bay in Newington. He then raced his very own pinewood derby car against children from the Boys & Girls Club of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth's Prescott Park before closing out his coastal pit stop tour with a chowder competition with celebrity chefs from some of New England's finest restaurants in the Strawberry Banke Museum. Captain Ralph Wilkins of "Wicked Tuna" on the National Geographic Channel fame helped judge the contest.
"This was just awesome," said Biffle. "From the great weather to learning how to farm oysters to racing cars with the kids to eating some great New England food - this really was a fantastic day. I hope to share similar excitement when we come back in September."
Biffle, who drives the No. 16 for Roush Fenway Racing, is in his 13th season driving in the Sprint Cup Series. He won the 2008 SYLVANIA 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and, with three races left on the schedule, currently ranks in the 16th and final position to make this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"It's all about getting that win and we're doing the best we can each and every week to improve and put ourselves in position to do that," said Biffle. "Right now, we're in the Chase. But that can change very quickly, so our focus is on Bristol this week then Atlanta then Richmond. All you can do is look at what's on the schedule next and go from there."
After slipping on a pair of waders with "NHMS" sandwiched between two green Speedway Motorsports, Inc. logos (Biffle is leading spokesman for the NASCAR Green Initiative), Biffle got a brief history lesson from Jim O'Brien and Ray Konisky of The Nature Conservancy. Ward followed the lesson, going hands-on with the oysters in shallow water.
"This was a wonderful opportunity to show what we do for a living to a different audience," said Ward. "Greg, being an avid fisherman, was very interested in what we do, which is nice to see. Having someone like him be able to talk about what we're trying to accomplish can only help us. I couldn't be happier to share and take part in this opportunity."
Before departing the beach, Biffle received an anchor from Jerry Gappens, executive vice president and general manager, symbolizing his mainstay and longevity on Roush Fenway Racing.
Biffle then made his way Prescott Park in downtown Portsmouth. Biffle had a custom-made pinewood derby car (wooden car with plastic wheels) waiting for him. The car was painted in his customary black, white, and red team colors with the No. 16 on the roof and "BIFF" spelled out on the hood. He raced children from the Boys & Girls Club of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on a track provided by the Portsmouth Boy Scouts.
"That was really great to have an opportunity to spend time with the kids," said Biffle. "They were so full of energy. That's awesome to see."
Biffle finished his day across the street at the Strawberry Banke Museum, where select fans and celebrity chefs awaited his arrival. Biffle and Capt. Wilkins blind tasted-tested chowders from Nicole Barreira (T-Bones, Cactus Jack's, Copper Door), Alex Thomas (Mombo Restaurant), Scott Ouellette (O's Steak and Seafood) and Jay Curcio (The White Apron). After scoring each chowder on texture, choice of ingredients, and overall taste, Barreira's chowder was determined as the winner. Barreira was presented a silver ladle trophy with "Biff's Pick" engraved into the front.
"Look, they were all delicious. Every single one of these chowders was great in their own way," said Biffle. "But I had to pick one and I thought this was the best of the bunch."
Legendary pit road reporter Dick Berggren joined Biffle on the stage following the contest, where he emceed a Q&A session with fans.