Last February, the Pittsburgh Steelers upended the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, giving them a record-tying fifth NFL championship. One of the components in the Steelers' 2005 drive to that memorable achievement was No. 22, Duce Staley.
Now, the big running back will be moving faster than ever.
Staley announced he is assembling a two-car Pro Stock operation that will make its national event debut next year at the NHRA's season-opening Carquest Winternationals in Pomona, Calif. The new effort will feature a driving duo consisting of a two-time POWERade champion and a newcomer to the NHRA's Pro Stock ranks.
Jim Yates, who won back-to-back Pro Stock crowns in 1996 and 1997, will be joining former IHRA Alcohol Funny Car veteran Billy Gibbons aboard Catch 22 Motorsports -- the second time a professional athlete has fielded an NHRA team with that title. Former NBA star and 1984 Slam Dunk Competition winner Larry Nance raced in the NHRA's Pro Stock category between 1997 and 2002 with his Catch 22 Racing operation. The number 22 refers to Nance's and Staley's jersey numbers.
Coincidentally, the NFL has played a previous role in the career of Yates, who drove for three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Joe Gibbs when Gibbs began campaigning professional teams in Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock in 1997. At the end of the 2002 season, Gibbs sold his drag racing ventures to concentrate fully on his NASCAR properties.
"I am very excited to establish this competitive racing team and am looking forward to engaging in a new challenge," said Staley. "The competition level in Pro Stock is so tight now. I believe that my experience with the elite competition in the NFL and the parity among NFL teams is transferable to the parity in NHRA Pro Stock."
Staley has been a drag racing fan since attending races with his father while growing up in the Tampa, Fla., area. The new racing venture is a dream come true for the 31-year-old, 10-year veteran of the NFL, who will be devoting his attentions to winning a second consecutive Super Bowl for the Steelers before the new NHRA schedule begins next February.
Staley's NFL salary is reported to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million per year -- roughly what it costs to field two competitive Pro Stock cars over the course of an entire NHRA season. Although Staley has not announced a primary sponsor for his new racing team, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the new owner will be shopping for a corporate partnership in the weeks and months ahead.
The NFL-NHRA connection Staley has created will be an important bridge in bringing non-drag-racing enthusiasts into the NHRA circle. Having a star running back assuming a foreground position as team owner in the Pro Stock category will encourage professional football fans to take a taste of the world's quickest motorsport.
Bill Stephens covers NHRA for ESPN.com.