Bob Brown is a man of speed, always has been. He was a champion high school sprinter in New Jersey and ran the 440 and 880 at Syracuse University. He raced cars cross-country in the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash and traveled at highly illegal speeds on the water with his friends in the powerboat fraternity. He started dating Karen Johnson late in 1963 and married her the following spring. He was editor in chief of (what else?) Car and Driver and, since joining SI in 1974, has overseen our coverage of (what else?) motor sports. He's also our track and field editor, which figures, and in that capacity he was in Los Angeles last week working on the Olympic trials with 25 colleagues.
Brown spent his time zipping a turbocharged red convertible (so hot it told him in English when his washer fluid was low) between the L.A. Coliseum and SI's Left Coast headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. As it will be during the Games, all of our coverage was reported, written, edited, designed and laid out in Los Angeles, then transmitted—in part electronically—to New York City. Brown was unfazed by the complexity of the mission. Two years ago, when we found ourselves needing a midwife to guide the magazine into the computer age, we naturally turned to Brown, who learned all about microchips in short order. The result is that SI is produced, yes, faster.
The soul of the new machines is far from the heart of the old ones Brown loved as a kid. "In fact, I did own a '51 Mercury and a '49 Ford convertible, all that stuff," he says. It took some time for Brown to mature behind the wheel. "When I first met Karen at Syracuse, we were on a double date. She was going out with a fraternity brother of mine," Brown remembers. "That night, as we were rushing to get our dates back before curfew, I pulled out as he ran toward the car and he slipped on the ice and slid under it. I hit the brakes. He ended up with tread marks on the collar of his jacket, but that was the only damage done."
Brown says no Freudian inferences should be drawn from the incident, and apparently Karen agrees: They've been wed 20 years. "We married on Memorial Day," Brown says, "and we had to hurry out of the wedding to listen to the Indy 500." Today they live on the North Shore of Long Island with their 13-year-old daughter, Morgan, and 12-year-old son, Nathaniel. Karen passed the New York bar exam last year and should have ample time to devote to her legal practice this summer as Bob picks his way through the hurly-burly of the Olympics.
Following all the frantic activity of the L.A. Games—after all the pure speed of them—Brown will take some time off, and a different, more tranquil side of him will emerge. He'll rise before dawn each day for a couple of weeks and take his fishing boat onto the waters of Hempstead Harbor. Out on Long Island Sound, he'll cut the engine and sit silently for hours, casting for bluefish. "That's what I really like best," says Brown, a man of speed who fully appreciates the peaceful moments.