As 2021 was turning into 2022, Jared Odrick realized his life was at something of a crossroads. He turned 34 on New Year’s Eve. He was five years removed from a seven-year run as an NFL defensive lineman, and far removed from his time as a star at Penn State, much less Lebanon High School.

It’s not that he had ever been one to let the grass grow under his feet. As his playing career wound down, he produced some short films. He acted in the TV show “Ballers,” as well as some movies. And his writing appeared in Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News.

But at that point in his life, he felt it was time to turn the page, time to begin a new chapter.

“It’s like birthday, new year, new me, all that stuff, coming together,” he said in a phone interview earlier this week.

So he decided he was going to become a race-car driver.

A race-car driver?

Indeed. It was, you should pardon the expression, the ultimate left turn on his part.

Four days into 2022, he bought a Porsche 991.1. By March of that year he had obtained his racing permit. He began competing the following month and has continued to do so ever since.

In February of this year, he signed on with CB Motorsports, a racing team based in Mooresville, North Carolina. He has made two starts for them in the Trans Am Series. He failed to finish the first, in February at Sebring (Florida) International Raceway, because of an alternator problem. Then, this past weekend, he placed 20th among 31 drivers at Road Atlanta.

“It’s been an immersion into a new world,” he said.

He likes learning a new skill, likes the team aspect and, of course, relishes the competition. While in his words races are “not as raw or primal” as NFL games, they definitely scratch an itch that needed to be scratched.

“I’m happy that my competitive angst has driven me here,” he said. “I’m really excited to be a part of this type of culture. The people that I’ve met and the things that I’m learning from them have been pretty cool.”

And before you ask, he absolutely considers drivers to be athletes. As he said, it is essential to be “hyper-focused” during a race, and the physical demands are undeniable. He has yet to acquire what’s known as a cool suit, meaning he emerges from his car drenched in sweat after a race. And even before that he realized he had to reshape his body; he had dropped some 30 pounds from his NFL playing weight, leaving him at 275.

But the biggest challenge, he has found, is becoming one with the vehicle – understanding its idiosyncrasies, knowing how it will react in any given situation, figuring out when to push and when to pull back.

In February, Jared Odrick signed on with CB Motorsports, a racing team based in Mooresville, North Carolina. (CB Motorsports)

“I wasn’t overly into cars when I was a young kid, competing in the Lebanon area,” he said, “but now that I’ve found competition in it, I was incentivized to learn what I need to learn, or to be able to compete at a higher level, or to be faster, or to be a better driver. Now the incentive is there, via competition vs. hobby or kind of this fetish, almost. I’m coming at it from a less fetishized position.”

He remembers that in his younger years his uncle, Jake Falk, took the family to road rallies in Wellsboro on occasion. But Odrick’s interests were elsewhere. He wound up an All-American and a Big 33 performer his senior year of high school, then became an All-American at Penn State as well. The Dolphins made him the 28th pick of the 2010 draft, and he spent five seasons in Miami, two more with Jacksonville.

After he was finished playing in 2016, he said he spent five years “re-educating” himself. He gravitated back to Penn State, from which he had earned a degree in sociology. He involved himself in various creative endeavors.

It was in 2021 that he first saw the possibilities that might lie in racing. After he helped a family friend, Ed Keturakis, install a roof on his cabin in New Mexico, Keturakis showed Odrick his Mazda Miata, then invited him to a race in Colorado.

Odrick was enthralled.

“I just couldn’t believe,” he said, “there were so many people who weren’t considered pro race-car drivers who could drive on tracks like that – drive that competitively, drive that close – and that this world of racing existed and was open to anybody who had the time, the wherewithal, the resources and was competitive enough. … I thought it was the coolest environment.”

That led to his New Year’s epiphany, and to his immersion. He finds himself tapping the brains of other drivers, particularly teammate Caleb Bacon, whose grandfather, Al, founded CB Motorsports in 1979 (and whose dad, Chad, now owns the team).

Odrick is also continually learning from his mistakes. In Atlanta, for example, he was assessed a penalty because he misunderstood the restart rules. That, combined with a spinout, cost him in the standings – cost him, he believes, a possible top-10 finish.

There will be other opportunities for growth in a season that runs through October. But he has seen progress, and doesn’t see a downside to his new avocation.

“It’s been really cool to find a relative world to football, but also feeling like it’s worlds apart,” he said. “It’s been awesome. It feels like a new discipline in my life. Everybody likes to use the word ‘adrenaline,’ but it’s brought me new discipline, new focus, and I think it brings a lot of people at the track that same thing.”

Far from going in circles, Odrick believes his life is now headed in a new, promising direction – that this sudden left turn will turn out to be the best turn. Racing gives him renewed purpose, and a competitive outlet. Now he wants to see how far he can take it, and how fast. Especially that.

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Gordie Jones is a Lititz-based freelance sportswriter.


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