Can there be any doubt that NASCAR is hip? Last week a stock car driver hosted Saturday Night Live. "I still can't believe I've been asked to do this," Jeff Gordon said last Thursday, after rehearsing a sketch with musical guest Avril Lavigne and SNL regulars Chris Kattan and Chris Parnell. "It says a lot about where our sport is now and how it's grown." It also says a lot about Gordon's natural showmanship that he was able to start cold (as in no acting experience, except for a few commercials), overcome a week of the usual frantic script revisions and the pressure of a live performance, and hit the checkered flag at 1:00 a.m. looking like a winner. "[This show] is like being shot out of a cannon," said SNL cast member Tracy Morgan. "I've seen the biggest stars get shook here. It's the biggest comedy stage in the world."
Gordon—the latest in a list of jock-ular SNL hosts that includes Derek Jeter, Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana—began his week as a TV star on Tuesday morning, when he walked into executive producer Lorne Michaels's office and was greeted with applause from the cast and crew. Then he listened as the writers and actors pitched their ideas. On Wednesday, Gordon spent nearly six hours reading scripts with the writers and cast before returning to Michaels's office to pick the sketches that would make the final cut. Except that while he tried to memorize lines, the "final cut" kept morphing. "I had a big stack of scripts with me last night," Gordon told SI on Thursday, "and they're all changed now."
Ultimately Gordon did the monologue and performed in five sketches. He played a snake handler (with a real boa constrictor wrapped around his neck); an Air Force pilot who came to his kid's grade school; a waiter who beat up Gary Busey (played by SNL's Jeff Richards) in a bit called "Gary Busey Star Dates"; a suburban husband and fish-tank owner faced with annoying aquarium repairmen; and a mullet-wearing redneck who drew audience applause for air-guitaring his way through Abracadabra. "I can't tell you what an adrenaline rush it was," Gordon said after the show. "The profession I'm in, I tend to be somewhat of a perfectionist, but once it's live, there's nothing you can do about it. It was a blast."