BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- He hails from Beaver Falls, Pa., and lives in Florida but Alabama claims Joe Namath as one of its own, and it welcomed the former Crimson Tide quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with its characteristic hospitality.
Namath, the grand marshal of the fifth Verizon IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park, toured the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum along with the paddock, pausing every few steps to pose for photos with fans wearing Alabama crimson and white shirts (and even a few in Auburn gear) and drivers.
He joined Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver Josef Newgarden and a chef from Taste of the South Magazine for a brief beef-and-veggie kabob cooking demonstration on the appliance bearing his name before INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles presented him with a spare rear wing endfence from the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car of Verizon P1 Award winner Will Power (Namath's jersey number in college and in the pros, which was retired by the New York Jets).
Namath chatted racing with team owner Roger Penske and feigned being starstruck when introduced to A.J. Foyt, who signed a circa 1960s racing helmet "It's hell getting old" and presented it to the 1969 Super Bowl-winning QB.
"To meet people that I was a fan of growing up, starting with A.J., is something else," said Namath, 70. "I have a great deal of respect for anyone that's good at something. Whether you go see a Broadway play, whether you go to a sporting event, these people are the best. They put the hours, the days, the time into honing skills. And to see these people put their expertise to work, it's jaw-dropping.
"I'm amazed at what these people do. It's one thing to watch it on television, it's another to be close up here and see it, feel it. To see the young guys such as Josef out there doing their thing surrounded by the teams ... it's amazing what they do in these super race cars."
Namath said he was "honored and excited" to take it all in while being "at home," and humbled to represent the Arthritis Foundation of Alabama at the event. His appearance was part fund-raiser, and the organization received a $25,000 check.
"Health may be our most taken for granted luxuries, and I'm here to say don't take it for granted and take care of yourself," Namath said. "Life is a team game, and in most sports it's teams that are putting things together. So all of us (have to) continue to work together to help support those whose health might not be as good as ours."
Franchitti to be honored at Racing to Recovery Gala
The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation will present four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti with the Legendary Driver Award during the 15th Racing to Recovery Gala on May 24.
A highlight of the event will be a live and silent auction, with proceeds directed to the support spinal cord injury research and the foundation's mission to find a cure for paralysis. For more information, call 317-236-9999 or visit www.samschmidt.org.
Franchitti also will be part of the television commentary team for the inaugural Formula E season.
Foyt's interest in the Kentucky Derby
A.J. Foyt will miss the April 30 Verizon IndyCar Series Open Test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course to attend the Kentucky Derby.
Foyt's best shot at the Derby was his horse "Rare Brick," who passed away in December at age 30. Unbeaten in eight races, the stallion, who had been favored to win the 1986 Arkansas Derby (the prelim for the Kentucky Derby), had to be pulled from the competition 10 days earlier because of an ankle injury. He was ridden by Mike Smith and Pat Day. Rare Brick sired 27 stakes winners.
Would you like some sauce on your Rolling Professor?
Takuma Sato and a Japanese photographer chuckled about the menu at an upscale Japanese restaurant in Birmingham last year. The item was supposed to be "Specialty Rolls" but what was written in Japanese was "Rolling Specialist" or "Rolling Professor."
"It was just a 'Lost in Translation' item on the menu. We had a laugh about it because I translated back to English so we could share what it says in Japanese. We always find a Japanese restaurant, whether it is a proper one or not, as we usually go for Japanese food at least once on a race weekend," Sato said.
Honda was docked 10 points following qualifications for violating Rule 16.5.1 (engine change under mileage) on the No. 18 car. ... Helio Castroneves’ No. 3 AAA Insurance-sponsored car featured a promotion of the DreamWorks feature film "How To Train Your Dragon 2," which will hit theaters June 13.