Super Bowl champion QBs teaming as rookie NASCAR owners

Posted: Thursday, September 01, 2005

FORT WORTH, Texas —Troy Aikman didn't win a game as a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL, and Roger Staubach had to wait until his third season before becoming the regular starter for the Dallas Cowboys.

But by the time they ended their football careers, the quarterbacks had led the Cowboys to their five Super Bowl championships — Staubach two in the 1970s, and Aikman three in the 1990s.

Now Staubach and Aikman are rookies again, this time as NASCAR owners. They plan to debut their Hall of Fame Racing team next February in the season-opening Daytona 500, the Nextel Cup's own Super Bowl.

''I think, relatively speaking, that the hard part is about to begin,'' Aikman said in a telephone interview this week with The Associated Press. ''We keep it in perspective. We haven't done anything yet.''

In football, Staubach and Aikman had been involved in the sport since childhood and experienced success at different levels. Staubach is already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while Aikman is eligible for consideration for the first time next year, five years after his retirement.

NASCAR is relatively new to the retired quarterbacks, who were only casual race fans until deciding in 2003 to form a Nextel Cup team.

''We have worked real hard to try to understand this business,'' said Staubach, CEO of an international real estate company that bears his name. ''It's been 2 1/2 years to really try to understand as owners and business people what does it take to have a chance to be successful in NASCAR. ... Now's just the beginning.''

Within the last month, Hall of Fame announced a three-year sponsorship deal with Texas Instruments. They also have a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing — yes, the coach of the Washington Redskins team so many Cowboys fans loathe — to provide engines, equipment and technical help for the new team.

''That really adds a lot of great luster to this. They have a first-class operation, and Joe Gibbs is a first-class person,'' Staubach said. ''But I never changed my loyalty. I'm still a big Cowboys fan.''

Hall of Fame Racing is now in the process of choosing a driver and crew chief, which the team hopes to have done by October. Aikman, who is a lead commentator on Fox's NFL broadcast and owns a Dallas-area car dealership, would like to find a young, talented driver ''that can be identified solely with our team.''

Staubach, who also spoke with the AP by telephone this week, joked that he still hasn't been able to convince his 6-year-old grandson that he can't drive the car.

What hasn't been decided, at least Aikman and Staubach say, is the paint scheme on the car. So what about the Cowboys' primary silver and blue colors?

''It's not something Roger and I will say we should put a star on the hood,'' Aikman said. ''We're pretty closely identified with the Cowboys as it is, although whenever somebody gives me a golf bag, everybody seems to think I need to have a No. 8 on it. I say, people know what number I was, I don't have to wear it around my neck. It's the same with this.

''We're both proud we played for the Cowboys and our history with the team. People know we played for the silver and blue.''

As for a car number, Nos. 8 and 12 are already taken by two of NASCAR's most popular drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman.

When Hall of Fame Racing was formed in 2003 by the quarterbacks and former Trans-Am driver Bill Saunders, they initially hoped to be racing the following spring. But they stepped back and took their time.

''They wanted to do it right,'' said NASCAR chairman Brian France, who counts Staubach as one of his boyhood heroes. ''The benefits (for NASCAR) are going to be obvious in that they're legendary players. ... They'll bring in visibility.''

Since forming the team, Staubach said most of his clients want to talk to him about NASCAR ahead of the Cowboys. One of his real estate company executives goes to six or seven races a year, but has no interest in going to a Cowboys game.

France believes the former Cowboys quarterbacks will benefit from their association with Gibbs.

''Joe Gibbs has proven that you can take success from one sport and translate it to another,'' France said. ''If they follow anything close to his model, and they're smart guys, they'll have a chance to be successful.''

When Gibbs first got into racing, before his drivers Bobby Labonte and Tony Stewart won Cup championships over the past five years, his team had a partnership with Rick Hendrick. It was similar to the help Gibbs is now giving Staubach and Aikman.

''They've only taken the first step on the climb up Mount Everest. It's a long, steep climb, but give them credit for wanting to do it right,'' said Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage. ''Just because they're champions in football doesn't necessarily mean it will be an easy road in NASCAR Nextel Cup racing. I think they are aware of that.''

The hardest part for the quarterbacks once they have a car on the track may be that they can only watch. It won't be like their days at quarterback, when they could make plays to win a game.

''In some regards, I'll get a taste of some of how some of my coaches felt, when they thought they called good plays and didn't think I executed it right,'' Aikman said.

''As a part owner, I'm going to be not only an admirer,'' Staubach said, ''but a nervous wreck.''

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