Since the age of nine, former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Gilbert Brown worked on the pit crew of his father's drag racing team. During these father-son bonding sessions, Gilbert learned the ins-and-outs of car maintenance from his father -- an assembly line worker at a Detroit, Mich. auto plant -- and a lifetime of adoration for automobiles.
"I learned how to love a car, how to work on it. Sometimes I view a car as woman because it has curves," Brown said. "I've always been fond of racing."
That passion has become a second career for Brown. He invested $100,000 in Milwaukee Mile, the country's longest continuous-running racetrack and the only track that features NASCAR, Champ Car and Indy Racing League (IRL) events.
The Milwaukee Mile, located at W. Greenfield Ave. in West Allis, Wis., also named him director of new business development. In that role Brown will pursue group sales, sponsorship and hospitality opportunities. Relying on his expertise in cars and capitalizing on the fame of his playing career, the 10-year NFL veteran also can serve as a valuable spokesman for Milwaukee Mile.
"He has tremendous identification. He doesn't have to wear anything with the No. 93 on it. People just know who he is," said Andy Randall, the president and CEO of Milwaukee Mile. "We are hoping to use him to open doors."
Brown also will open doors through his civic initiatives. He will go to schools and churches to amp up interest in auto racing while emphasizing positive messages like staying in school. The former run stuffer wants to communicate that auto racing could serve as a way for students to better their lives just as football did for him. Brown, Randall and other staff members have brainstormed other ideas, including hosting boy scouts or students with perfect attendance for a weekend at the track.
"One of my main focuses is trying to help out the youth of today," Brown said.
Brown's role in Milwaukee Mile came to fruition after he served as grand marshall of the Mile's Victory Lane on June 4, 2005. Brown gave the trophy away to ARCA/RE MAX Series winner Frank Kimmel and became enthralled with the Mile's facilities and the excitement of the day's races.
"I just fell in love with the whole place," Brown said.
Brown approached the owners of Milwaukee Mile about becoming involved, and Randall knew the former Packer would be a good fit.
"His personality and ability is a plus for us," Randall said. "This was a good business affiliation for the both of us."
Those traits could help the Mile capitalize on their marquee racing events. Paul Tracy and the high-speed Indy Car Champ Cars hit the oval track during the weekend of June 2, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and Busch series will rumble during the weekend of June 23, Danica Patrick and other IRL stars will burn rubber on the weekend of July 21 and the Governor's Cup, including a 200-mile ARCA RE/MAX Series race, will begin on the weekend of Aug. 25.
In the future attendants will have more reason to make each high-profile race a family event. The Mile's investors have planned to purchase 9.4 acres of development along Greenfield Avenue. As early as 2007, they want to build a 100-room hotel designed for weekend travelers and businessmen and a free-standing, racing-themed restaurant.
"That will complement the racetrack overall," Randall said.
The track itself does not need much improvement. During the last three years, the Mile added new features, including aluminum bleachers and grandstand seating, a new pit wall, a new scoring pylon, a permanent media center and enhanced restrooms and concession areas. Those changes helped modernize a track, which has existed since 1903 -- eight years before cars raced at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Mile has its share of football history as well. The Green Bay Packers compiled a record of 29-12, including a 27-0 win against the New York Giants during the 1939 NFL Championship game, when they played in the infield of The Milwaukee Mile from 1934 to 1951.
"We have the unique feature of being a racetrack that has a kind of history attached to it," Randall said.
Before Brown and other investors acquired the rights to the historic track for 18 years at $1.8 million per year, the state of Wisconsin owned the track. About a year-and-a-half ago, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle decided to privatize the complex, and that turned out to be a mutually beneficial decision. Randall, Brown and company take part in a potential-filled venture while the state no longer has to run and a staff a business, which was losing money.
"The state's ability to operate an entity like this is a bit of a stretch," Randall said. "They weren't operating efficiently."
The Milwaukee Mile should operate more efficiently with a savvy businessman like Randall and an auto enthusiast like Brown behind the wheel. Brown literally will take the wheel when he squeezes his 340-pound frame into a race car for the first time on May 7th during a "Drive the Mile" promotion.
"I'm going to be out there, trying to go around that track and see if I can get a couple of victories, "Brown said. "I'm going to act like I've been around it for 20 years."
Most of Brown's work, however, will occur behind the scenes. He has tentative plans to create his own racing team with young, up-and-coming drivers. He also has talked to Jerome Bettis -- the former Pittsburgh Steelers running back he blocked for in high school -- about joining his racing endeavors in some capacity. Although his racing opportunities seemingly have no limits, he has focused on making others enjoy cars as much as he does.
"We want to bring the love of racing back to Milwaukee," Brown said.