Beaver Falls, Pa.’s Joe Namath is an honorary Alabaman, after playing at the University of Alabama – and Sunday morning in his duties as Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama grand marshal, he had the chance to do a little home cooking.
Among part of the pre-race festivities, Namath, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden and a chef from Taste of the South Magazine performed a brief beef-and-veggie kabob cooking demonstration on the Namath Rapid Cooker.
But that was only part of what made Namath’s trip to a Verizon IndyCar Series race a memorable one. He also met A.J. Foyt, toured the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, received a No. 12 rear wing endplate off Will Power’s car and represented the Arthritis Foundation of Alabama.
“I felt a camaraderie with Josef, because of the uniqueness of his spelling,” Namath told MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview. “From my ethnicity, my full name is spelled a little differently too. He’s a treat.
“But all of these guys – they’re stars, they’re experts at what they do. They work within the team situation. I’m impressed being around them. They’re remarkable people.”
Both the IndyCar paddock and the Barber Motorsports Park facility awed Namath, who has been to racetracks before but not for a significant time period.
“The changes are amazing to me that I see with the cars and the bikes, going through that museum. One of our few constants in life is to change, and that’s been done,” Namath said.
“This is a joyful experience. I did a little homework before I came over to this facility, Mr. Barber’s facility. I know Birmingham; I’ve been through Leeds many times. But I was just stunned to see this track, and how beautiful it is, and to learn what the drivers think. It’s spectacular.”
Namath is not alone among iconic football greats serving as the “HIGPA” grand marshal the last few years. Fellow Alabama graduate and Super Bowl I and II MVP Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers served as grand marshal in in 2012; two-sport star Bo Jackson did so last year.
“I have a tremendous amount respect for both of them,” said Namath. “Bart Starr I have learned some things about how to conduct myself in a classier way. Bo Jackson, I watched him and I learned I wasn’t so good an athlete that I thought I was, compared to him.”
Lastly Namath expanded on teamwork. It was something that, despite his “heard ‘round the world” guarantee ahead of Super Bowl III, he needed the rest of the New York Jets to help pull off to complete the upset of the Baltimore Colts.
Racing, too, much like the NFL requires a huge team effort – if you equate the driver to the quarterback, the pit crew is the offensive line providing the necessary support.
“I like to emphasize that life is a team effort,” Namath said. “There’s very few people that do anything on their own. So let’s start out teaching the youngsters, teaching people how important it is to feel how lucky they are have others trying to help them. It’s not about me, or I, all the time. We have personal responsibilities, but life itself is a team effort.”