NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown finds a kindred spirit in Richard PettyBrown's second trip to a NASCAR race gave the NFL Hall of Famer a chance to spend time with the King, a meeting he relished. Together they talked to reporters behind the hauler of the No. 43 RPM Ford.
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
It took former Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Richard Petty all of five minutes to begin talking like old friends.
Brown helicoptered to Pocono Raceway last Sunday with Andy Murstein, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. Murstein and Brown are part of the ownership group of the Long Island Lizards of the Major League Lacrosse.
Brown's second trip to a NASCAR race gave the NFL Hall of Famer a chance to spend time with the King, a meeting he relished. Together they talked to reporters behind the hauler of the No. 43 RPM Ford.
"I recognize a legend like this," Brown said, nodding at Petty, "and we have such a great way of communicating, the two of us -- and we only met five minutes ago. But it's wonderful to be out here and be a part of this culture and show my respect for the culture. It's a great culture.
"I did Daytona about five or six years ago, and that was the first experience that I had. It was mind-blowing. If you've never really followed the culture in a certain way, you never realize how dominant it is and how many people enjoy it. The tailgating, I guess you guys invented that, and football tried to keep up."
Petty's longtime allegiance to the Washington Redskins didn't inhibit the burgeoning friendship between the two legends, but Petty acknowledged it did create some friction in his own household years ago.
"I was a Redskins fan, but my wife thought he (Brown) was the greatest thing since popcorn, and we had a lot of arguments over that deal," Petty said. "I was not a Browns fan. I was a Redskins fan. And I don't think she was a Browns fan -- she was his fan."
"Give her my best," Brown quipped.
Though Brown has followed NASCAR racing, the bruising running back said he has never had a desire to drive a car at race speeds.
"Let me tell you, I love sports, but I don't think I'm going to try that," Brown said. "It seems like a little rough for me… Getting behind the wheel, that's not my thing."
"I didn't want to go out and play football either, not with those guys," Petty interjected.
With the recent focus on concussions in the NFL, and legal action on the part of former players, Brown has gained an appreciation for the safety enhancements of NASCAR racing and hopes that the NFL can follow suit.
"In the National Football League, we're way behind, and I think NASCAR -- out of the fact that you can really get hurt -- stepped up their safety concepts, so I think most of the drivers would feel that they've done pretty much everything that can be done without taking away from the sport," Brown said. "We have a ways to go, because this is the first time that we've really ever taken the safety situation seriously, because of the lawsuits.
"And when we come out of this, I think we will have a much safer game, and we won't take away from the impact of the game. So we're a little behind NASCAR, and if we pay attention to the fact that someone realized that something had to be done that would make it safer, the same thing has to happen in football. Two different sports, but if you're conscientious about it, and you want to make sure it's as safe as you can make it, then you can do that."
From Murstein's point of view, association with legendary athletes like Brown and Petty is a strategic move. Brown, who played both football and lacrosse at Syracuse University, was the ideal addition to the Lizards' ownership group.
It started with the addition of Hank Aaron to the board of directors of Medallion Financial Corporation, of which Murstein is president.
"Medallion Financial, we're heavily invested in the taxi industry," Murstein told the NASCAR Wire Service. "A couple of years ago, we wanted a mayor in a certain city to give us a rate of fare increase for the cab industry, and he refused to take a meeting with us because he was very busy. He said we could see him in six months. I called him back, and I said, 'Can we come see you tomorrow?' He said 'Tomorrow? I can't even see you for the next six months' -- this was his assistant.
"So I said, 'But I'm going to be with Hank Aaron tomorrow.' The assistant says, 'Please hold,' and was back to the phone, 'Hank Aaron the baseball player? What time would you like to come tomorrow?' Usually when I see this particular mayor, I'm waiting an hour in the lobby for him. He was waiting for us with two baseballs in his hand for Hank to sign, and he gave us the rate of fare increase a week later."
Though there's a certain cachet to a famous athlete, Murstein says stars such as Brown, Petty and Aaron bring more to the equation.
"These guys are legends, so they're all tremendous door-openers," Murstein said. "People look at them as athletes, which is the right way to look at them, but from a business standpoint, they're all very smart men, and they also understand business and how it works hand-in-hand with sports these days more than ever."