CP MOTORSPORTS - GORDON’S INDIANAPOLIS DREAM LINGERS WITH PACE CAR GIG
By anybody’s standards, Jeff Gordon has a wealth of blessings: a loving family, success beyond measure in the profession he’s passionate about, respect of his peers and millions of strangers alike, and the still-boyishly handsome face. Drag racing icon John Force even quipped, “I wish I had just one chin like him.”
However, and in no way is he bitter about it, one thing in life eluded him. He never got the chance to compete in the Indianapolis 500.
How Gordon loved these fast, sleek, ultimate dream machines of auto racing he saw at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The combination of beauty and power fascinated him, and he set his sights on being one of 33 elite drivers here in May and etch his name into the world-famous racetrack’s rich history.
He was glad his family moved from the Vallejo, Calif., area of Northern California to Pittsboro, 20 miles or so down the road to the west of the Speedway. His opportunities practically sat in his backyard for inspiration. Gordon and his parents pursued that dream, “when we were trying to go to the next level.”
Gordon said, “I knocked on a lot of doors. It didn't happen within IndyCar. When I was living in Indiana, pursuing other types of racing, IndyCar was on the radar, I drove a Super Vee out at IRP [now Lucas Oil Raceway] on the road course. I went to several IndyCar races to be introduced to car owners, drivers, try to get my foot in the door there.”
It wasn’t to be. But the Indianapolis Motor Speedway nevertheless had plans for Gordon, just not in open-wheel racing. NASCAR came to town in 1996 with the Brickyard 400 stock-car race that broke the facilty’s long history of hosting only one race each year. Gordon won the inaugural and four others.
And for Gordon, that was the pinnacle of achievement. He had been the best at his beloved IMS.
“I've said this many times, I still believe it. Winning the inaugural Brickyard 400, to me, fulfilled that dream,” he said. “Now I've had a chance to win it four more times. This is a special place for me. I love getting a chance to race here.”
Sunday he got to be part of the Indianapolis 500 lore, if not the starting lineup. He was invited to drive the pace car, a shiny Chevrolet Z06. And no one had to ask him twice.
“Would I have liked to have at least run one Indy 500, know what it's like? Sure, I would have. It won't be happening, but I would have liked to have known what that was like,” Gordon said. “But as far as being honored to a whole other level, this today is it.”
The 92-time winner with four NASCAR championships announced he’ll retire from driving at the close of this season, but despite the prestigious gig Sunday, he still had to bolt from Indianapolis after parking the pace car and fly back to Charlotte to race in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 the same evening.
“What a thrill it is to be here on race day,” Gordon said at Indianapolis. “I certainly had plenty of opportunities to make laps around this track before, but never have I had the experience like I'm having here today, to be honored as being the pace car driver, to get the chance to drive that amazing Corvette Z06.
“I've had a chance to make a couple laps around the track a week ago. It's certainly up to the task. I get to hang out with my buddy Johnny Rutherford. I got a chance to meet my all-time hero, Rick Mears, earlier today. My family is with me as well experiencing this.”
Before jumping behind the wheel, he said, “The hardest thing is going to be getting out of the driver's seat of that car. It's such a great car. I want to take it home with me. It's going to be hard to leave the Indy 500. But certainly have a lot to do in Charlotte to do as well this evening.”