LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Fans strolling down the Pocono Raceway garage had to look twice. Sure, Richard Petty standing outside his hauler is a common scene on race day. Throw in Jim Brown and it was a Hall of Fame twin bill tough to top.
Brown was Petty’s guest for Sunday’s NASCAR race at Pocono. The two legends — perhaps the greatest in their respective sports — chatted privately before they were swarmed by fans wanting pictures of The King and the former Cleveland Brown great.
“I’m a fan of NASCAR, in a certain kind of way,” Brown said. “I recognize a legend like this.”
Brown also recognized the NFL could learn a few things in athlete safety from NASCAR.
“In the National Football League, we’re way behind,” Brown said. “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 like they’ve done everything that can pretty much be done without taking away from the sport.”
Standing to Brown’s right, Petty nodded in agreement.
“We have a ways to go,” Brown said. “This is the first time we’ve ever really taken the safety situation seriously because of the lawsuits. When we come out of this, I think we’ll have a much safer game and we won’t take away from the safety of the game.”
NASCAR has made serious upgrades since the 2001 death of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500. The head-and-neck restraint device became mandatory that same season. Additional safety features — soft wall technology, stronger cockpits, automatic engine kill switches — were added the next few years.
The NFL recently approved a rule that banned ball carriers from using the crown of their helmets to make forcible contact with a defender in the open field.
“I think they’re making an honest effort to make the game safer,” Brown said. “Maybe it’s been forced upon them because of the lawsuits and this whole concussion deal. I don’t quite like that one because I don’t think it gets to the point. A running back lowering his head is going to knock himself out.
“They’re giving a great effort in trying to make it safer. But some of the rules are made by people who didn’t play the game.”
Wearing a black, button-down Cleveland Browns shirt, the 77-year-old Brown hobbled around Pocono, but said his health was otherwise fine.
“I feel very fortunate,” Brown said.
“All them concussions ain’t caught up with you,” Petty asked, laughing.
“They haven’t caught up with me,” Brown said.
Brown said because he doesn’t suffer from any lingering symptoms of concussions he may have sustained over his career, he isn’t among the group of players to have filed lawsuits that accuse the NFL hiding known concussion risks.
“I know that there are players that have had problems and those things should be taken care of,” Brown said. “But on a personal level I would be dishonest to say I was suffering from anything.”
Brown’s only previous NASCAR trip was to Daytona International Speedway a few years ago. Richard Petty Motorsports co-owner Andrew Murstein also co-owns a New York-based lacrosse team with Brown and invited him to Pocono. Brown also attended the pre-race drivers’ meeting.
Brown has recently rejoined the Browns after his estrangement for years from the team where he starred in the 1950s and 1960s. His previous role was eliminated by former president Mike Holmgren.
Brown said he will meet with new owner Jimmy Haslam in the next week or so to decide his exact job duties. It likely will focus on community work, interacting with fans and helping mentor players.
Brown’s wife, his 9-year-old son, Morgan, and 11-year-old daughter, Aris, toured the track with him. His kids had one request — they wanted to meet Danica Patrick, of course.
His family walked down pit road to Patrick’s No. 10 car and they all posed for pictures. Patrick asked Aris if she liked soccer and complimented her sneakers. They were all smiles for the cameras that suddenly mobbed them.
Everyone warmed to Brown, even Petty. He said he was a huge Washington Redskins fan, “but my wife thought he was the greatest thing since popcorn.”