Memo: Gordon-Hating Has Passed Out Of Vogue
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Let’s see what’s in the old Morning Memo today:
The airplane was on final approach and passengers had just been asked to turn off and stow all electronic equipment when the overly chatty flight attendant got back on the public address system.
Because the airplane was landing in Orlando during Speedweeks and because 80 percent of the passengers were wearing NASCAR gear, the flight attended began naming drivers.
Each name got a smattering of hoots and applause, especially from the well-oiled fans. Dale Earnhardt, still alive at the time, got loud hoots and applause.
And then, Jeff Gordon, a three-time championship at the time, got booed and shouted down fairly savagely.
“Wow,” or something like that, the flight attendant said. Some guy from somewhere in the plane offered an unsolicited explanation, shouting out, “Freakin’ pretty boy!” Except he didn’t use the word freakin’.
Such was Gordon’s standing in NASCAR Nation not that ago. Booed in pre-race intros, the target of beer cans during victory laps and the object of horror stories designed to frighten young children around camp fires.
Apparently, no longer.
A colleague working in the media center at Phoenix on Sunday said that when Gordon passed Kyle Busch for the lead eight laps from the end of the race there, the cheer that went up from the
grandstands was so loud that the guy thought somehow Dale Earnhardt Jr. had taken the lead.
The warm feelings toward Gordon continued through post-race ceremonies and bled into media reports the following day.
Just as I could never understand the derisive treatment of Gordon in the past – I have spent considerable time with him and found him to be the ultimate gentleman (which may be what doomed him among old-schoolers) – I could not initially understand the hearty reception after this PIR victory.
But I think that is the nature of sports hero worship. The closer to retirement a top athlete gets – regardless of how much he was previously despised – the more his accomplishments come into focus.
And, up shoots the appreciation factor.
Earnhardt Sr., remember, was not always the beloved icon he eventually became. Athletes from Muhammad Ali to Jack Nicklaus were despised as snotty punks during the early parts of their careers.
Somebody suggested to me that the wonderful reception Gordon got from fans at Phoenix was pitty-based. That is, people were feeling sorry for the guy because of his two-year winless streak.
I don’t think that is it. Not completely, anyway. I think Gordon has crossed that invisible line. The guy has had an amazing career. He’s got 83 victories and counting. Four championships and counting. Multiple Driver of the Year Awards and counting.
Finally – and even thought he is still a bit of a pretty boy – NASCAR fans have said to themselves, “OK, the guy is one of the all-timers.”
And on Sunday, as the sun was going down in Phoenix, they said it to each other and to the world.
Memo to self: Send copy of this to Jimmie Johnson.
Yes, sure, of course I thought it was cool that Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 a couple of weeks ago. How could you not. Seems like a great kid with eyes forward and feet on ground.
But I was much more happy for the Wood Brothers Racing team. It was seeing them in Victory Lane
in Daytona had me thinking nice NASCAR thoughts.
I grew up with the Wood Brothers. In the ‘60s, when my friends and I would fasten baseball cards on the rear wheels of our bike with clothes pins, it would be with shouts of, “the Wood Brothers”. Later, the name became synonymous with just, generally going to work on a car for us. Oil change: “Wood Brothers!” Tire change: “Wood Brothers!”
I still have a photo of the Wood Brothers pitting Jim Clark’s Lotus at Indy in 1965 as the wall paper on my laptop.
One of my favorite professional memories is of touring their old shop up in Stuart, Va. Favorite memories of that was the drive up through the culturally intense back country of Virginia and the wall of old photos in the shop.
Photos of Curtis Turner, Tiny Lund, Fireball Roberts, Bob Welborn, Dale Jarrett, A.J. Foyt, Glen Wood, Buddy Baker, Marvin Panch, Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Ned Jarrett, Fred Lorenzen, David Pearson, Joe Weatherly, Ralph Earnhardt, Neil Bonnett, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, and Bill Elliott.
And Jim Clark and Colin Chapman.
Then, there were Len and Eddie Wood – caretakers of history and classy acts on their own – headed for Victory Lane two weeks ago.
After years of painfully having to ask them about disappointments, it was intensely cool to see big smiles.
Memo to self: Love ya, Glen and Leonard but I hope none of those baseball cards was Mickey Mantle rookie job.
During the broadcast of the 500, television told us that Kevin Harvick, who had crashed out early, was already back home in North Carolina.
Not sure what to think about that. Were this stick-and-ball, Harvick would have been called out coast to coast for leaving before the race was over.
Good thing for Harvick that: First, there were more important things to talk about in aftermath of the race; second, stick-and-ball hairdos were analyzing “Melo’s” decision to opt for black cotton socks that day instead dark-blue silk blend.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments