Minter: Gordon Talks Numbers, Family And Future
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
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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments