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Payton Also Made His Mark in Motor Racing

November 02, 1999|SHAV GLICK

When Walter Payton finished his Hall of Fame career in professional football, he turned his competitive juices to auto racing.

Payton was invited to drive in Toyota celebrity races during the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1988 and 1989 and always said those races whetted his racing appetite.

"That was a blast," he said after finishing the 1988 race. "I want to try that again."

His response was to drive two years in the Sports Car Club of America's Pro Sports 2000 series and a year in the Oldsmobile Pro Series

After winning the SCCA GT-1 championship during the 1990 June Sprints, he decided to become a professional and run in the SCCA Trans-Am series.

In his first pro race, at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., Payton drove for Paul Newman and Bob Sharp in an Oldsmobile Cutlass. He lasted only 13 laps before his engine gave out.

In 1992, he came back to Long Beach in the Trans-Am, driving a Chevrolet Camaro for Tom Gloy and again had mechanical trouble.

His best finish in 18 Trans-Ams with Gloy was an eighth at Road America in a Ford Mustang in 1992. Twice he received the series' "Hard Charger" race award, both times at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

In 1994, at 40, he decided to give up driving and bought into Dale Coyne's Indy car team, which became Payton-Coyne Racing.

"Walter was a familiar sight in the pits and on his scooter at every race," said Mike Zizzo, a CART official. "Until his sickness, he never missed watching his drivers on the track."

Shorly after Payton announced his illness, all the cars in this year's CART season opener at Homestead, Fla., carried a decal, reading, "Get Well, Sweetness" and was accompanied by a football helmet with No. 34 in the Chicago Bear colors.

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