Michael Annett talks about switching from hockey to racing.

When most NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers were honing their chops in developmental racing circuits, a 16-year-old Michael Annett was compiling a scouting report on Sidney Crosby.

“You get him lined up and you think you’re going to clean
his clock,” Annett said. “Then you hit him and it’s like running into a brick
wall. I think that’s what’s really made him as good as he is, the balance that
he has.”

The scouting report was born of first-hand experience.
Before he became a full-time Nationwide Series driver for Bob Germain in 2009,
Annett was a rink rat. As in hockey.

“I started when I was 6 and really that was the only sport I
played until 18,” the Des Moines, Iowa native said Saturday prior to the
CampingWorld.com 300 at Auto Club Speedway.

The current driver of the No. 15 Toyota was once an undersized (5-foot-10), defensive-minded
defenseman. By his own admission, “I really wasn’t very good with the puck on
my stick at all.”

But he was good enough to play two seasons in the USHL, the
highest Tier 1 Junior league based in the United States, for the Waterloo
(Iowa) Black Hawks from 2003-05. Annett’s stats weren’t great (no goals, eight
assists and a minus-15 rating in 100 games) but some of his teammates
certainly were.

In 2003-04, the year the Black Hawks won the Clark Cup, the
team captain was a 19-year-old Joe Pavelski. Pavelski has since carved out a
five-year NHL career with the San Jose Sharks. Other teammates (J.P. Testwuide,
Peter MacArthur and former Kings draft pick David Meckler) have gone on to
careers in the AHL.

When Annett was playing at the midget major level he played
“five or six times” against Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ captain and
Canadian Olympic hero, who was then a Minnesota high school phenom.

It didn’t take Annett long to realize that his own future in
hockey was limited.

“Normally you’re in the USHL for two years, then you move on
to college,” he said. “At that point, all the friends I considered close, they
were moving on. I was 18 at the time and you can play in the league until
you’re 21, so I could have kept playing and played there for 2 or 3 more years,
but I felt like everybody I wanted to be on the team with, they were moving on.

“Everything just fell into place at the right time.”

Annett’s father, Harold, owned a World of Outlaws car and
young Michael went with his father to the racetrack until his
dad sold the car when he was 6. Hockey filled the void for the next 12 years, but racing
never left Annett’s heart.

“Even growing up playing hockey, when everybody else
on the team was watching NHL games on the TV, I was watching races,” he said.

So he suggested to his father that they fast-track him back onto a racetrack.

“It wasn’t a week after we lost in the (USHL) playoffs that
(my father) called an old friend from racing that was crew chief on a car,”
Annett said. “He had a USAC Silver Crown car in Memphis. We went out and tested
in that, it was just kind of a feeler to see if I knew what I was doing. Then
we went out and bought a late model racer in Iowa for a couple years.”

The rest is history. Annett validated his switch from hockey
to NASCAR by finishing 10th in the Nationwide standings in 2009, a season that
included four top-10 finishes and $1,187,940 in earnings. Annett is 12th in the
points this year with six races left on the schedule.

Annett currently lives in Mooresville, N.C., which is not
exactly a hockey hotbed. But he was so focused his switch to racing at age 18,
Annett said, “I didn’t put on a pair of ice skates for three or four years.

“Then two years ago, I got on a team in Greensboro – there’s just a men’s league team that plays once a week – and that was actually a lot of fun, to fall in love with the sport again and get back into it.”

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.