ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO/WQR) — I continue to dig into my sports vault of stories I’ve compiled over the last 30-plus years to share with you some of my favorite ‘Stateline Sports Memories.’ One of the best was the day I caught up with NFL and Chicago Bears icon Walter Payton when he raced at Blackhawk Farms Raceway in South Beloit.
I don’t have the exact date of this story, but I believe it was shot in the summer of 1992 or thereabouts which would have been five years after Payton had retired from football. Payton was very passionate about auto racing at the time. Following is that story. R.I.P. Walter and thank you!
SOUTH BELOIT, Ill. (WTVO) –On the football field Walter Payton was a natural. Accelerating through holes, rushing for more yards than any man in NFL history (his record since eclipsed). Now he accelerates on the race track, and he thinks in terms of miles, not yards.
“Racing, it’s more mental, and you have to be relaxed,” said Payton. “Just like in football you have to be relaxed just before you make a move and just before you get out there and touch the ball, but here it’s moreso because the car…you’ve got to become a part of the car.”
When Payton left behind his football helmet in favor of a racing helmet he entered an entirely new world.
“Auto racing you can’t hit back. In football you could,” said Payton. “If you had the ball and somebody was coming up you could throw an elbow, but with auto racing you can’t hit so if something happens, if somebody cuts you off and you get frustrated what do you do? You can’t hit them. The car will break apart.”
I suppose we’ll always think of Walter Payton as a football player first and foremost, but he takes auto racing very seriously. In fact last month at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin he not only won a race, he practically lapped the field.”
In little more than two years on the track Payton has earned the respect of other racers.
“You’ve got to come up the ladder just like in any…in anything,” said Payton. “When they (other racers) saw that I wasn’t looking for a free ride, and I wanted to work my way up then you have that respect and understanding.”
There’s no Super Bowl to shoot for in racing, but ‘Sweetness’ has other goals to shoot for.
“If I could say, well this is where I want to go I’d probably think about doing Le Mans, 24 hours of Le Mans or doing something at Dayton 24 hours…some endurance races.”