Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Evolution of Jeff Gordon

Most of my life, I've not been a Gordon fan. I was always an Earnhardt fan, but times are changing, just like Nascar is. Jeff Gordon is a current driver, and still very competitive. Jeff Gordon has won 81 Cup races and has won 4 championships. Let's face it folks. Like him or hate him, Jeff Gordon is now the grand old man of Nascar.

Jeff's career started in 1992, and he has won an incredible 81 races! I'm guessing that he's going to win more too. Darrell Waltrip? Bobby Allison? Kiss your records goodbye, because this guy is going to beat you.

I have been an Earnhart fan all of my adult life. I graduated high school in 1981, the year after Dale Earnhardt won his first championship. I've been an Earnhardt fan since before I was out of high school. I grew up near a town called Greer, South Carolina. Greer is about 85 or so miles southwest of Charlotte on Interstate 85. Nascar was something my friends in school talked about. It was something we all watched, whenever we had a chance to watch it.

In 1992, Jeff Gordon started his first Winston Cup race, and as it turned out, the only race he ever ran with Richard Petty. This was the Hooters 500, at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in beautiful Hampton, Georgia. The King was done, but nobody knew back then that a new era in Nascar racing was about to start.

In that race, Bill Elliot won. Richard finished 35th, and the young kid named Jeff Gordon finished 31st. Dale Earnhardt finished 26th. Imagine if that were Dale Jr. today? Poor finishes happen, and that's life in racing.

The point of this is that Jeff was on the track with the King, Richard Petty, in 1992. It was Richard's last race. It was Jeff's first.

When the era took hold, it took hold by storm. In the 1990's Jeff Gordon dominated the series. He didn't win all the championships, but he won a ton of races. Jeff didn't actually start winning until 1994, but he won 2 races that year. In 1995, he won 7 races. The next two years, he won 10 races each. In 1998, he won an incredible 13 races. Along the way, up until 2001, he managed to win 4 Cup championships as well.

Jeff Gordon has been booed by Earnhardt fans, and by Southern fans in general. Jeff was born in California, and grew up in Indiana. He looks like a Hollywood actor, and he speaks in obviously carefully prepared scripts, or so it would seem.

In 2003, Jeff broke up with his wife, a former Miss Winston, Brooke. The divorce was messy, and the tabloids had a field day. Gordon haters rejoiced, and Jeff kept winning. A couple of years later, Jeff met his future wife, Ingrid Vandebosch, and they got married. The couple have a baby, named Ella Sophia, and suddenly I was a Jeff Gordon fan. I don't know why, but fatherhood made Jeff Gordon suddenly a human being for the first time in his life, at least to me.

When asked about his daughter or his wife, Jeff smiles, a genuine smile. Not a factory made to order smile. I like to see it, and I'm glad to include myself among the number of Jeff Gordon fans now.

He's not my favorite driver. Don't think that he is, but I'm a fan. For years I felt that Jeff, and his protege, Jimmie Johnson were some kind of factory made race drivers. They never showed any emotion. Their responses to questions in interviews were robot like. I don't like that. I like real people driving race cars.

Something about having a baby made Jeff a little more human. He seems like a likable guy now. He's not the robot he used to be, he's a happy father and husband. He's a family man now. He still drives race cars at very high speeds, but at some level, it seems that Jeff Gordon is finally at home. He's human, and feels the same emotions that all of us do.

I like Jeff Gordon. It took a lot of years for me to say that, but I do. I hope he will be able to hold his grandchildren in his arms, in his rocking chair.


  1. Jimmie's even lightening up. Junior must be rubbing off on them. I became a fan of Jeff's too with the birth of his daughter. Funny how little things like that can change our perspective of a person.

  2. Thanks, Cheyenne! I think it's long gotten past the point of debating whether or not Jeff is a great driver or not. 81 wins and 4 championships don't just happen to a driver. I like him, and I'm even starting to like Jimmie. I don't know whether it's the fact that they're now teammates to Dale Jr. or whether marriage, family or something have made them seem more human to me. I have a funny feeling in my stomach when I find myself rooting for them during races now! Both are great drivers, and both probably will never understand why so many people like me booed them for so long!


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