Joe Namath: Visiting Barber IndyCar weekend a “joyful experience”

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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.”

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Photo: INDYCAR

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”