Ronde Barber Jersey

Ronde Barber to set pace at RR

Starkey Speedway in Roanoke, a quarter-mile dirt track that was the site of several NASCAR races in the early years, closed in the mid-1960s, years before Ronde Barber was born.

While missing out on a dirt-track NASCAR race might seem a disappointment — or might not — Barber made do as an athlete. The Roanoke native received a football scholarship from the University of Virginia. He started three seasons at cornerback, graduated from the McIntire School of Commerce, was a third-round draft choice of Tampa Bay and played 16 years with the Buccaneers.

And Barber will scratch his NASCAR itch Saturday night at Richmond Raceway when he drives the pace car for the first few warm-up laps of the Toyota Owners 400.

He’ll buzz around the track at the speed of 45 miles per hour, which sounds like the perfect speed to him.

“I anticipate this being light lifting,” he said, laughing. “Nothing heavy, like throwing out the first pitch of a baseball game.”

Throwing the first pitch is harder than it looks, and many celebrities and athletes make it look pretty difficult and embarrassingly memorable.

While it’s possible to put the pace car into a wall, it’s not likely if a simple rule is followed: keep it on the road.

Barber, 44, said he has done pace car training. He also was taken around a track at something approaching race-day speed.

“I don’t think I ever went that fast going from Roanoke to Charlottesville,” Barber said, laughing.

He’s doing his 45-miles-per-hour Saturday in Richmond because Fox Sports, for whom he works as a game-day NFL analyst, asked if he was interested.

Fox will carry the race Saturday night, weather permitting.

Barber will begin his seventh season as a game analyst for Fox this fall. And if his playing career is any indication, he’s in it for the long haul.

Barber not only played 16 seasons in the NFL, he holds the record for most consecutive starts at cornerback in NFL history, 215. And he has the most consecutive starts as a defensive back in NFL history, 200.

“My last year, the Bucs moved me to safety,” Barber said. “But they started me in the first game that season [2012] at cornerback, so I could get to 200.”

Barber’s streak could have been 223. But during his third season, he didn’t start in the ninth game because of a hamstring injury. He did go into the contest, and has a streak of 224 consecutive games played.

That doesn’t happen by accident. Barber’s longevity, consistency and availability involved some luck and a great deal of preparation.

“The lucky part is avoiding getting caught up in a pile of players where something crazy happens,” Barber said. “But I definitely took care of myself.

“I saw three or four practitioners a week for massage, muscle activation, chiropractic work. It was a process. Over the course of a 17-, 18-, 19-week season, you have to put in a lot of work to take care of your body. It’s almost a 24-hour-a-day job, and I was willing to do that. It paid off.”

It was the NFL, though. From the first day of training camp to the last day of the season, pain, or at least discomfort, is involved.

“You don’t play that many games and not play hurt or play through something,” Barber said. “I just always found a way. I was not very keen on watching somebody else do my job.”

Barber also is lucky that finding a way to play doesn’t affect him now.

“I wake up feeling fine,” he said. “I’m active. I still try to stay in shape. I haven’t let myself go.”

Add that with 47 career interceptions, five Pro Bowl appearances, three NFL All-Pro first team selections, the only Tampa Bay player with at least 40 interceptions and 20 sacks in his career, plus a significant role in the Bucs’ victory over Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII, and it could or should lead to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Barber simply said, “I hope so.”

At the moment, he describes himself as one of the “giddily obnoxious” Virginia fans over the Cavaliers’ national championship in men’s basketball.

“It’s almost like it was destined to happen,” he said.

Barber, whose twin brother Tiki was a star running back at Virginia, played 10 seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants and gained 10,449 yards rushing, also is heartened by the recent performance of the Virginia football program.

“I see progress,” he said. “Bronco [Mendenhall] has a plan. You can see he’s committed to what he’s doing. He’s got what he wants in a quarterback [Bryce Perkins]: someone he can trust to make plays and who gives him a chance to win.”

Every year, Barber progresses as an analyst for Fox. He puts in the time, studies film of NFL players and just as he did during his playing career, shows up and gets the job done on Sundays.

Now, if he can keep that pace car in the road Saturday night, he’ll be giddy about one more thing.

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