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Minter: Gordon Talks Numbers, Family And Future

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 1 2011

Jeff Gordon has not always been a fan favorite in NASCAR, but he has always been respected by those who appreciate top driving skills. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Bristol, Tenn. – It had been about a year since I’d had a one-on-one interview with Jeff Gordon, so back at Daytona I asked his publicist Jon Edwards if he’d put me on Jeff’s calendar for Bristol.

In a Sprint Cup world where publicists don’t exactly jump when an interview request comes in, this transaction was seamless.

Edwards’ initial answer was something along the lines of: “OK. Send me an e-mail to remind me.”

I did, and got one back that said: “Is 10:30 on Friday OK?”

It was, and I went to the 24 hauler at the appointed time, and Gordon and Edwards were there waiting. The opportunity for an exclusive with Gordon is not something I took for granted. In the same seven-day stretch that he talked to me, Gordon also did numerous other interviews including one on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”.

I figured I wouldn’t waste Gordon’s time beating around the bush so I just came right out and asked him one of the things I really wanted to find out: “Do you think you can catch Pearson on the career-win list?”

Gordon’s initial reply wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it wound up getting us off to a good start.

“C’mon,” he groaned. Then he laughed and continued, “This is what I love. You go for 66 races and don’t win a race and you’re like, ‘Are you ever going to get to 83?’ Now I win one race and everybody’s, ‘Oh, you can get to 105 now.’”

Then he got down to the answer.

“That’s a big number,” he said. “I’ve always said anything’s possible. And when things are clicking

Jeff Gordon pops out of his car after winning at Phoenix this year. How many more? (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Jeff Gordon pops out of his car after winning at Phoenix this year. How many more? (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

and the chemistry’s there with the team, you can click off a lot of wins. I certainly feel like I have it in me to be able to go out and put multiple wins together this year.

“All I can say is I’m looking to get to 84 then try to look at going to 85. You can’t look ahead to what Pearson has done. That’s too far out there to even be thinking about right now.”

I asked him if it was important to him where he winds up on the career-win list.

“I’m pretty happy with where I’m at,” he said. “But I think we’re capable of getting enough wins to move into third, I really do. I’d be somewhat disappointed because I feel like I let the team down by not getting the number of wins I think we’re capable of getting over the next four or five years.

“I feel like I still have it in me to get those wins and I know the team does. If it ends today, I’m content because it’s been a heck of a career, and I’ve gotten a lot more wins than I ever dreamed I would get.”

At the risk of getting another “C’mon” I asked him what he might do after racing, and reminded him of an old quote from his step-father John Bickford, who said that one day Gordon will be so successful in some other venture that people will say almost as an aside that he used to drive race cars.

Was that just a proud step-father talking?

“He’s certainly a proud step-father,” Gordon said. “What I credit him for is he sees things in me that I don’t even see in myself, and he inspires me to push myself to accomplish things I never dreamed of.

“Racing has given me a lot of great opportunities, and what that opportunity may be when I’m no

Jeff Gordon has a lot of experience in front of cameras. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

longer driving is hard to predict and to know whether or not it’s doable, whether or not I’d be successful at it. We’ll find out.

“I love racing. I love the business of racing. I love the driving. I love the team aspect of it. Racing is first and foremost for me. I’m certainly comfortable in front of a camera, and I’ve had a lot of experience being in front of a camera.

“I’ll be honest. Most of the things when I think about I’d prefer to be behind the scenes, orchestrating, organizing and directing.

“I’ve really enjoyed being in the wine business. It’s a very competitive business. I enjoy the foundation work. There is so much we have started that I don’t really get to spend the amount of time with that they need for them to be successful.

“When that day comes I’ve got to weigh all those options out. The most important thing is being a father to two kids.

“ My next career might be seeing them pursue whatever their dreams are. That could be racing or it could be gymnastics or who knows.”

I pointed out to Gordon that he seemed to have a grand time participating in Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream on the dirt at Eldora Speedway, but for the most part he doesn’t race anywhere except the Cup circuit.

“I just don’t have enough time,” he said. “My focus on racing is where I can be best, where I feel like I can focus and offer the most.

“When I got in the Cup series and really started focused on trying to win championships and then started having success, the business side of racing started to become a bigger priority when I wasn’t driving.

“Now I’ve kind of created this conglomerate of businesses and people…so when I’m not racing I feel like I need to spend my time watching over those things rather than going off and driving a race car.

“Sometimes I’m envious of these guys that are off doing some of these other races because it looks like

Jeff Gordon's family figures into the post-driving portion of his life in a big way. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

fun. I just know what I have time to do, and what I’ve created I don’t want to see that go away.”

Would he consider a second career on the sports car circuit, where there are far fewer races each season than what he’s been running in Cup?

“I like driving, but even more I like being competitive,” he said. “If there was something I feel like I could still be competitive at, yeah, I would do it.”

I’d remembered Gordon saying years ago how much his first few runs in a 410-cubic-inch-engine sprint car scared him, so I asked him about that and about how drivers overcome fear. He said he wasn’t kidding about the sprint car.

“The acceleration, on dirt, in a very powerful car will get your attention in a big way,” he said. “You don’t feel like you’re really in control of that car until you start to understand how to slide it into the corner and what it’s going to do. For a 13-year-old kid, that was pretty overwhelming.

“I said it many times: ‘I don’t want to do this. It’s not for me.’ I credit my dad. He believed in me, maybe it’s because he invested a lot of time and money into it (laughing) but thankfully he did, because the best thing that ever happened to me was getting in a sprint car at that age.”

He said that every car he’s ever driven gave him somewhat of a similar feeling.

“Every race car I’ve ever gotten in was an unknown, unique and different,” he said. “Every one of them I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. What separates a race car driver from an average person is you will experience that fear of unknown, but once you take a few laps and you start to

Jeff Gordon has always been one of the best on the road courses. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

understand it then the challenge is just ‘How do I make it go fast?’”

After Gordon’s last championship season of 2001, his cars were shifted over to a new teammate Jimmie Johnson, who has gone on to win five championships while Gordon hasn’t won any more.     I asked him if there anything about this transaction he’d do different if he had it do to over.

“We built a team just like we built our team,” he said. “Our goal was to create a successful team like we had with the 24 car. I think what you can’t anticipate is how the people that you’ve chosen to be a part of that team  - a group of guys chose them I had a role in the driver –  create that team and chemistry.

“What you work and strive to do is create the best team you possibly can. I think maybe we underestimated how the organization of the 24 team – how we built cars, how we went to the race track, how we raced – I think we underestimated just how good that team was, and that we could produce a team that quickly and have success.

“They took those resources and they had a better combination than what we even had, and they took it and grew with it. Chad and Jimmie did a better job than us with the same resources. That’s why they’ve been so successful.”

We talked some more about the points system this year, about Trevor Bayne and how me might already be third on the career win list had not some untimely late-race caution flags derailed him last year.

“I question the caution at Martinsville,” he said. “I could have gone without that one, but I’ve been in tower on Saturday. There’s a lot going on.  I’m not going to question what they do up there.

“There are a lot of races I should have won and a lot I shouldn’t.

“That’s how it all works itself out.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, April 1 2011
7 Comments

7 Comments »

  • Donna FLetcher says:

    I started attending dirt races at the age of three.My daddy was a flagman and also a car owner. I have seen all types of people at the tracks and know class when I see it. Jeff Gordon has proven that you don’t have to be a redneck to be a skilled driver. I have nothing against rednecks, but there is room for everyone in Nascar.
    I am headed to Talladega for the weekend and look forward to seeing Jeff out front. Talladega is a difficult place to be a Gordon fan due to the Dale Jr. posse. Believe it or not, they think Jr. hates Gordon. However, Jr. also has a great deal of respect for Gordon.

  • Jim Hunter says:

    More than any other guy in NASCAR, it is always a pleasure to listen to Jeff speak. He is thoughtful, articulate, respectful, genuine and just a real class act – it is unfortunate that for so many years he had so many detractors. The thinking seemed to be: he is not a stereotypical good old boy; therefore he is evil. It is nice to see that at this stage in his career he is gaining in popularity. I think this is mostly because he has handled a reduced level of success so well: no cry-babying, no blaming. He is gracious and remains optimistic and his competitive fires still burn brightly. He was really embraced by the fans after the Phoenix win and I’m sure that if he could rack up a number of wins this year it would be a highly popular development. When the sport lost Dale Earnhardt we fans were in shock and couldn’t imagine the sport without him. Of all the great drivers out there today, if there any question that the one driver we can least imagine the sport without now is Jeff Gordon?

  • Jan Clary says:

    Jeff Gordon is one of the greatest drivers for Nascar. I really do respect him first as a driver, then as a humanitarian and as a wonderful family man. He will always be #1 for me. I have been a big fan of his since 2000. He has grown as one of the best of Nascar. Drive for 5 – Go 24!!!!!

  • Marilynn Brown says:

    I am African-American and Jeff probably knows that there are not many of us who are big NASCAR fans, mainly because of the lack of African-Americans in the sport. I am following, however, NASCAR’s diversity program and its minority and women drivers, hoping in the future I will see some of them in the truck, nationwide and sprint cup. However, I want Jeff to know that it is because of him that my sister and I have become big NASCAR fans. Jeff spent his younger years in Vallejo, California and my sister and I live in Fairfield, only 13 miles away. When we heard of his success in NASCAR we started following him. Now we look at all of the NASCAR races on TV and regularly attend the road race at Sonoma, California.

  • V. Faye Becker says:

    I’ve followed you your entire Sprint Cup career and over the years my admiration for you has grown….not only as a driver, but as a speaker, as a humanitarian and as a family man. You weren’t a founder of the sport but you have become a legend and will remain so in the history of NASCAR. Job well done and I continue to wish you the best in all of your endeavors.

  • Terrell Davis says:

    Good story. Gordon will surely get to third on the all time win list, but it will be difficult for him to get to Pearson’s 105 mark.
    Still, like he said, if it all ended today, he’s had a great career.
    Keep up the good work, Mr. Minter.

    • SHEILA BURKE says:

      i think jeff is a great driver ,nes been doin it for so long, like he says he knows they can do better and i sure he is doin his best. i have faith in him and some more wins this year.so what if he dont,well his true fans willl hang in there with him.thats what a true fan is, they stick with their favorite driver and dont bash on him when he doesnt win.jeff has alot on his mind, not just racing.jeff hang in there and i know u can get to 3.god bless you and ur family…a true diehard jeff gordon fan.win or loose your still number one in my heart and in racing.GOOD LUCK ON THE REST OF THE YEAR…TRUE GORDON FAN,SHEILA BURKE