OAKLAND -- Tony Stewart never saw it coming Thursday. NASCAR's Stewart, in the area to promote Infineon's race in June, was standing a good 5 feet away from Osh, a 10,990-pound African elephant surrounded on four sides by metal and steel at the Oakland Zoo. Stewart was going to feed the animal when Osh without hint flicked his 150-pound trunk at Stewart, striking the two-time Sprint Cup champion in the chest.
The blow propelled Stewart backwards, a look of amazement on his face. The flick came with the quickness of a snake flicking its tongue and it moved Stewart back with the same suddenness and ease that a leaf blower moves a leaf. Its speed was almost as impressive as the power behind the blow.
"If Osh gets his trunk around you," said Jeff Kinzley, Osh's trainer, "you're down."
At which time, Kinzley added, Osh would pull his victim under him and then "crush him with his head." Stewart was not amused.
"And who thought this was a good idea?" said Stewart, who has a charitable foundation that raises money to protect animals, among other things. It was a good idea if only for the image it left for Stewart and a columnist who imagined Osh thinking, "Was that an acorn?" if he had stepped on me.
"Humility" is how Stewart phrased it, standing in the presence of an animal that weighs almost six tons, stands 11 feet at the shoulder, runs 35 miles an hour, drinks 115 gallons of water daily to wash down the 250 pounds of food.
"When he drinks water," Stewart said, "it sounds like a toilet flushing."
So what happens if Osh gets angry?
"You just let him do what he wants to do," Kinzley said.
"It's like being with a woman," said Stewart, a 39-year old bachelor. "If she's upset, you just let her do what she wants to do."
No one stopped Osh when he grabbed a sign that read, "I love you, John. Osh." The sign was for a convalescing John Cardinale, Infineon's uber-super media relations director. A video of Osh holding the sign would be sent to Cardinale to cheer him up. Oh, how cute.
But then Osh ate the sign, cardboard, wood and inked words and all. It wasn't just cute. It was amazing, to see the world's biggest garbage disposal.
"Elephants in the wild," Kinzley said, "eat trees."
All of which led to Stewart being asked this question: What kind of animal are you when you are in your race car?
"Depends," said Stewart, currently third in points. "At times I'm aggressive so I'd be a tiger. Other times I'm a turtle because I am laying back. Other times I'm like that boa constrictor we saw earlier; I want to choke somebody."
But at no time did Stewart say he behaved like an elephant. Strange he didn't. For there have been times, when drivers have seen the hot-blooded Stewart in their rear view mirror, they have treated him like an elephant. Let's get out of his way before someone gets skull-crushed.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.