Many a wide-eyed athlete has arrived at the big leagues with a refreshing outlook, only to adopt a jaded veteran mentality as the newness of fame and fortune wears away. But that is the exact opposite of what Edwards wants. He once said his greatest worry was somewhere down the line, people would say he’s changed from the genuine nice guy he once was. Judging by a recent visit with Los Angeles-area media, he has little to worry about. Edwards will begin his third full-time season in Nextel Cup racing with his fun-loving attitude intact. To Edwards, racing is still cool – really cool, in fact. Not only does he get to do what he loves, he gets to experience amazing opportunities that come along with being a star in America’s biggest racing series. Take his recent trip to California, as an example. When speaking about his travels, Edwards sported such a wide grin that he nearly laughed with every word. When Carl Edwards first arrived on the NASCAR scene, fans and media members alike marveled at the driver’s attitude. To Edwards, everything was a “cool,” “neat” or “awesome” experience. And the 27-year-old driver seemed as surprised with his sudden rise to prominence as everyone else. “The fact that I qualified my Cup car (in Daytona), and then I get a police escort from the garage to the private airplane hangar where they had a jet waiting with the door open and food – that, I guess at some point in my life, I told somebody what my favorite foods were – and they’re all on the plane with some reading material with two pilots calling me Mr. Edwards. (They) flew all the way here, (I) put on some suit that some stylist picked out for me, then went to some Grammy parties and hung out with Kid Rock a little bit? “I mean, that whole thing is crazy. It’s weird. It’s like I’ve lived two separate lives. I’m telling you, they weren’t even letting me in (California Speedway) five years ago. There’s no way. It’s just funny.” When Edwards smiles, everyone smiles with him. His enthusiasm is contagious and a bit magnetic, given that his success story somehow makes others feel good about themselves, too. Or perhaps it’s because however many strangers are in the room when Edwards enters, there are few when he leaves. Even walking into a private reception at Hollywood hotspot Bar Marmont last week, Edwards shook hands and greeted seemingly everyone in the room. Despite knowing hardly anyone, he made eye contact and spoke to each person. When he talks about himself, he somehow works everyone from his motorcoach driver to his public relations representative into the stories, showing no regard for his star status in the racing world. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that he learned that those he held in high esteem were just regular people like him. “There’s a big paradigm shift when you get (to Cup),” he said. “Mark Martin is just a normal guy, a hard-working, down-to-earth regular guy. It’s like you’re hanging out, talking to Matt Kenseth about something and it’ll be, `Hey, a while back, Matt Kenseth was just this guy that you watched on TV.’ “I kind of had these ideas about how people were, but everybody’s been really cool. It’s amazing.” Edwards uses that same word to describe his experience with starting his own music label (the first CD is now on iTunes) and getting the chance to act in the hit TV show “24” and a low-budget movie called “The Disciple.” He had a couple lines in the latter, playing a hospital worker helping a patient. For example: “Are you family?” “You know, standard stuff that I do when I’m tending to patients,” Edwards deadpanned. He hit the red carpet – which he said was actually blue – after the Grammy Awards to some post-ceremony parties, posing for the paparazzi with California Speedway president Gillian Zucker. But Edwards is careful to point out that for each of his show business-related activities, he does five times as much racing. “I spend so much time in the race car, more time than I ever thought I would,” he said. “On average, I get a day off a week where I can just do whatever. I probably don’t even need a day off – I really enjoy it.” That’s why, despite entering his third season racing both the Cup and Busch Series full-time, Edwards doesn’t see an end in sight to his mega-loaded schedule. Even the temptations of L.A. couldn’t change that. During his stay, he woke up and walked out to his hotel balcony overlooking the marina. As he peered down at all the sailboats, Edwards thought about what it might be like to trade in his racing life for a laid-back lifestyle on the beach. Maybe he could do as well at acting as he could at racing. Or any number of professions, for that matter. He might even make the best Wal-Mart greeter the world has ever known. On the other hand … “If I got on one of those boats and went on vacation for more than two weeks, I mean, there’s no way – I’d want to race,” he said. “That’s one of the only ways you can make it (as a driver). I meet people all the time who say they want to be race car drivers, but you’ve really got to love it.” And he does. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!