Michael Jordan, who has joined forces with Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace to create 23XI Racing, may be the most famous athlete to attempt a NASCAR crossover after a successful career — but this isn’t the first time someone’s tried it. A wide variety of successful athletes and coaches from stick-and-ball sports and other disciplines have attempted NASCAR ownership through the years.
Unfortunately, most of them never got off the ground: NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown, MLB Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, and NFL head coach Dennis Green are just a few "wannabe" owners who couldn’t close the deal. With Pro Football Hall of Fame and three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Joe Gibbs being the notable exception, Jordan is walking into a trend line of athletes with brand recognition, high expectations — and a long list of failed race shops.
Troy Aikman & Roger Staubach
These famous Cowboys quarterbacks always loved motorsports and made a big, public splash to form Hall of Fame Racing in 2006. The venture, three years in the making, had star power with former Cup champion Terry Labonte splitting the ride with Tony Raines, engineering support from Joe Gibbs Racing and sponsorship from Texas Instruments.
But in a sign of troubles to come, the team needed three past champion provisionals in the first five races just to make the field. HOF earned a total of just two top-5 finishes in two years, had trouble keeping a guaranteed spot in the field and languished as a single-car outfit. By September 2008, Aikman and Staubach were out; the team merged with Yates Racing and ceased to exist by 2010.
You have to reach down into NASCAR’s Truck Series to find some degree of success, however brief. NFL wide receiver Moss, while still playing for the New England Patriots, bought into a multi-car outfit and had a decent record in this division from 2008-11. Mike Skinner won three times for the Toyota-backed outfit, finishing third in the point standings in 2009.
Another famous NFL quarterback, another mediocre single-car team. Marino partnered with driver/owner Bill Elliott in 1998 to field a second car with Jerry Nadeau as the driver. In this case, the No. 13 proved unlucky; Nadeau failed to qualify three times in the first dozen races and was fired by midseason. A handful of replacements followed, but none was impressive enough to keep FirstPlus Financial around. Ted Musgrave earned the NFL player’s lone top-5 finish as an owner, a fifth at Phoenix that November, before they closed up shop for good.
The Philadelphia 76ers great made waves when he partnered with former NFL running back Joe Washington to form a Cup Series team in 1997. They hired the first female president of a NASCAR Cup team in Kathy Thompson and had plans to run the full schedule with Rich Bickle. Problem was, sponsorship never materialized, and the group never ran a single Cup race, scaling back to the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In 56 starts over three years, they earned just one top-10 finish and employed a dozen drivers. Sponsor Dr. Pepper left the program, and the team dissolved after a whopping nine DNQs in 12 races to start the 2000 season.
The former NFL quarterback and FOX analyst partnered with Armando Fitz to run a NASCAR Xfinity Series team in 2001, coinciding with Bradshaw’s network taking over broadcasting rights. Despite a very public marketing effort and solid sponsorship, 360 starts with a potpourri of drivers produced no wins, only 14 top-5 finishes and a whopping 85 DNFs over eight years. Even famous names like Kerry Earnhardt, Sterling Marlin and series veteran Mike Bliss couldn’t get them over the hump. Those struggles kept them from ever moving up the ladder, too; FitzBradshaw attempted only one Cup event, running 36th at Phoenix in 2002 with driver Ron Hornaday Jr.
The Olympic gold medal track star has always had an interest in the sport; in 2019, she helped launch an iRacing league through her foundation in East St. Louis. Unfortunately, her real-life NASCAR team never got off the ground. They entered the exhibition Bud Shootout at Daytona with David Green in 2000, preparing for a limited schedule, but withdrew from attempting the Daytona 500. The team failed to find primary sponsorship and was never seen again on the Cup level.
(Top photo courtesy of Twitter)