OCTOBER 10, 1983
When Joe Washington went to his first NASCAR race, in 1997, he realized immediately that teamwork was as essential to winning on the track as it had been for his club, the 1982 Washington Redskins, in winning Super Bowl XVII. Washington hung out with Joe Gibbs, his former coach and a NASCAR team owner, and after spending time in the pit area at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he left knowing he wanted to be involved in stock car racing, but not as a spectator. "[Racing] is as close to running an offensive football team as it gets," says Washington, 50.
Within a year he joined with basketball great Julius Erving and businessmen Fields Jackson and Asa Murray to become the first African-Americans to form a NASCAR team since the mid-1980s. Competing on the Busch Grand National circuit beginning in February '98, the group's number 50 car qualified for 38 races but finished no higher than 10th. The team lost its sponsorship and ceased racing in June 2000.
Now Washington, who owns a Baltimore-area financial consulting firm, is ready to give racing another shot. He and Erving are completing plans to have a car back on one of NASCAR's circuits in 2004, and this time they expect to reach the winner's circle. "Getting back in the sport and having the right financial foundation were huge priorities for us," says Washington. "We have a job that is unfinished. We owe it to the minority community—we will eventually win."
Washington knows a bit about winning. A two-time All-America at Oklahoma, the 5'10", 170-pound speedy halfback known as Little Joe helped the Sooners win back-to-back national titles in 1974 and '75. He was the fourth player picked in the 1976 NFL draft, by the San Diego Chargers, and wound up playing nine seasons with the Chargers, Baltimore Colts, Redskins and Atlanta Falcons. In 1979, with the Colts, he led the league in receptions (82); he finished his career with 4,839 rushing yards.
After retiring from football in 1985, Washington started an Oklahoma City-based marketing company that counted Pepsi and Gore-Tex among its clients. Satisfied after 15 years that he had accomplished all that he had set out to do with the company, he became a certified financial adviser and went to work in 2000 for First Union bank in the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville, where he lives with his wife of 27 years, Meadow Lark. Six months later he started his own firm.
Washington stays involved with football by running a speed-and-quickness summer camp for Baltimore-area kids, and he has developed a rooting interest in the University of Pennsylvania, where his daughter, Brandy, is a junior and plays tennis. But Washington's athletic interests are focused on racing these days, and he's determined to use his car as a vehicle for diversity in the NASCAR ranks.