Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jeff Gordon

Jeffery Michael Gordon was born on August 4, of 1971 to William and Carol Ann, in Vallejo, California; He was raised in Pittsboro, Indiana, and currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He, along with Rick Hendrick, are the co-owners of the #48 Lowe's team, driven by Jimmie Johnson, who won the 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009 Sprint Cup series championships. Gordon also has an equity stake in his own #24 team.

Jeff was five when he began running laps at a makeshift racetrack that he and his stepfather, John Bickford, made out of an old fairground in his hometown of Vallejo, California. John really helped Gordon along in his racing career and inspired him to do his best at everything he did. By the Age of 6 Gordon had won 35 main events at the Crackerjack track in Rio Linda, California and set 5 track records. Gordon says that the track at Rio Linda was the first real race track he ever raced on, in an interview with Newsweek magazine.

At the age of 13 in 1984 Gordon took an interest in the 650 horsepower sprint cars. Gordon and his family had to overcome an insurance hurtle because the minimum age for driving the sprint cars was 16; but their determination paid off when Jeff was allowed to run in the All Star Florida Speedweeks. Supporting his career choice, Gordon's family moved from Vallejo, California to Pittsboro, Indiana, where there were more opportunities for younger racers to race against older racers. After moving to Indiana, things were far from easy. In an interview with Newsweek, his step-father said that the family "Slept in pick-up trucks and made our own parts. That's why I think Jeff is misunderstood by people who think he was born to rich parents and had a silver spoon in his mouth."

Gordon won three short-track races and was awarded USAC Midget Car Racing Rookie of the Year in 1989 at the ripe old age of 18. That season was highlighted by winning the “Night Before the 500” midget car race; the reason the race is called that is because it is the day before the Indianapolis 500.

In 1990, Gordon won his second consecutive “Night Before the 500”, and 2 more races on his way USAC national Midget title. When there wasn’t any places for him in any open wheel series Gordon decided to try out stock cars, and when he did, he loved it. Jeff then met a man named Hugh Connerty, who owned some Hooters restaurants and was a partner in Outback Steakhouse. Hugh helped Gordon pay for a test run at Charlotte in a Busch (Nationwide) series race. Ray Evernham, a then unknown, was asked to come work with Jeff as his crew chief. They ran a few races together at the end of the 1990 Busch (Nationwide) series season.

1991 was Gordon’s breakthrough year; He moved up to the Busch (Nationwide) series full time driving the #1 Carolina Ford Dealers, Ford for Bill Davis racing and won the Rookie of the year title with Ray Evernham as his crew chief, all in the same year he won the USAC Silver Crown championship at a record age of 20.

In 1992 Gordon set a NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) series record by capturing 11 poles in one season. His time with Bill Davis racing introduced Jeff to Ray Evernham as his crew chief, which led to be a potent combination later on. Coincidentally, Gordon's first NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup Series race, the 1992 Hooters 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, was also the final race for Richard Petty. The day before Gordon’s first Winston (Sprint) cup series race he won the pole and the race at the very first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Busch (Nationwide) series, catching the eye of talent genius Rick Hendrick.

In 1993, Gordon raced his first full season in Winston (Sprint) Cup for Hendrick Motorsports, in which he won a Daytona 500 qualifying race, the Rookie of the Year award, and finished 14th in points. Ray Evernham was placed as Jeff Gordon's first crew chief in the Winston (Sprint) cup series. Gordon's success in the sport reshaped the idea that young drivers couldn’t have success in NASCAR, and that helped lead the way to a wave of new drivers that you see in today’s version of the sport.

In 1994, Gordon collected his first career victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca Cola 600, NASCAR's longest and most demanding race. Additionally, Gordon scored a popular hometown victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the inaugural Brickyard 400, passing Ernie Irvan for the lead late in the race when Irvan cut down a tire and Gordon just happened to be in second. Gordon finished eighth in the Winston Cup point standings for the '94 season, as Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the championship for his 7th and final time.

1995 saw Gordon win his first NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup Championship. It was a grueling battle against him and 7-time Winston (Sprint) cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. that led all the way to the final race but Gordon just barely got it. Gordon finished the season with eight poles, and seven victories. The team's consistency was much better as well, having 3 DNF's in 1995, compared to 21 in his previous two seasons combined.

Gordon got off to a rocky start in 1996, but rebounded to win ten races, the series high; his most notable win was at the very last race to date at the North Wilkesboro Speedway. This would start a three year streak of winning double digit races. He finished 2nd to teammate Terry Labonte for the championship, losing by only 37 points.

Jeff Gordon’s 1997 year began with him signing a deal with Pepsi to be his associate sponsor. That deal is still ongoing to this day. Jeff won his first Daytona 500 in 1997, becoming the youngest driver in history to win the historic race. Later in the season he also won the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte and had a chance to become the first man since Bill Elliott in 1985 to win the "Winston Million”. Gordon completed the feat by holding off a determined Jeff Burton in the final laps of the Southern 500 at Darlington. While Elliott failed to win the Winston Cup in 1985 along with the Winston Million, Jeff Gordon claimed his second Winston (Sprint) Cup championship in 1997, completing one of the most impressive single-season performances in NASCAR history. He finished the season with 10 victories for the second straight season. His victory at California was in the track's inaugural race, and his victory at Watkins Glen began a streak of seven consecutive road course victories.

In 1998 Gordon successfully defended his victories in the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500, winning a record four consecutive Southern 500s in the process. Gordon also won his second Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. According to most NASCAR drivers the race at Indianapolis has become second in prestige only to the Daytona 500. Gordon finished the 1998 season with a victory in the season finale at Atlanta. This was his 13th victory of the season and tied Richard Petty's modern era record of 13 wins in a single season. He finished 1998 with 13 wins, 7 poles, 26 top fives, and 28 top tens.

In 1999, Gordon along with crew chief Evernham formed Gordon/Evernham Motorsports. Though short lived, the race team enjoyed success. The co-owned team received a full sponsorship from Pepsi and ran six races with Gordon as driver and Ray Evernham as crew chief in the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) Series. Even though he won six times in the Winston (Sprint) Cup series in 1999, Gordon's season was a major disappointment to their standards, finishing 6th in the series standings. A major reason of the malfunction of Gordon’s season was that his crew chief Ray Evernham packed up and left Jeff’s Hendrick Motorsports team after Dodge gave him a deal he couldn’t refuse, to leave and make his own team to reintroduce Dodge back into the sport, which ended one of the most dominant driver/crew chief combinations in NASCAR history. Brian Whitesell was named the interim crew chief for remainder of the season after Evernham's departure in September. Jeff Gordon established The Jeff Gordon Foundation to help support children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses in 1999, and now is a well known charity among drivers and fans alike.

2000 saw Gordon enter his first campaign with Robbie Loomis as crew chief. Loomis had been with Petty Enterprises for years prior but decided that going to the Hendrick Motorsports camp was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. Gordon scored his first victory of 2000 at Talladega in the spring event, winning his 50th career victory in the series. Gordon finished the season 9th in points.

Many people questioned Gordon's ability to win championships without longtime crew chief, Ray Evernham; especially after Gordon struggled to a 9th place points finish in 2000, winning only three races. Gordon answered those challenges in 2001 by winning 6 races en route to his 4th Winston (Sprint) Cup championship. Jeff Gordon became the third driver to win four Cup championships in NASCAR history only second to Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt which both won seven times. The 24 car's paint scheme was changed for the first time, abandoning the younger looking 'Rainbow Warrior' paint scheme in favor of a flames-themed car. Both paint schemes were designed by Sam Bass.

Gordon entered the 2002 season as defending champion, but the year was far from perfect, which was just possibly caused by Gordon’s divorce with his first wife Brooke. Gordon had a good run going at speedweeks in Daytona, he won his 125 qualifier and was having a strong run until he slid into Sterling Marlin which spun him into the grass with only a few laps remaining forcing him to a respectable 9th place finish. Many also think that the addition of the 48 team with Jimmie Johnson as the driver also took away from Gordon's season as the 24 team helped to build the 48 team. Gordon did not win until the Sharpie 500 night race at Bristol in August, his first victory in the night race at Bristol, a week later he won the Southern 500 at Darlington for his 5th time. The 24 team finished the season 4th in points.

In 2003, Jeff Gordon returned with Robbie Loomis for a third season together. In June, Gordon went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to take part in a test with then-Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya. The two switched rides for that day, with Gordon driving an F1 car for the first time. Montoya would eventually join the NASCAR Cup series in 2007 for Chip Gannasi racing with Felix Sabates. Jeff finished the year 4th in the NASCAR standings, with 3 wins, 15 Top-5 finishes, and 20 Top-10 finishes.

2004 was a huge rebound for the team. Gordon again won the Brickyard 400 in August 2004, obtaining his 4th Indy win. He is the only NASCAR driver with four Brickyard 400 victories at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and one of only five drivers to have four victories at the historic track. He finished 3rd in the 2004 NEXTEL (Sprint) Cup points standing behind Kurt Busch and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Gordon scored the most points that year overall but due to the newly implemented chase for the cup format Gordon only finished third. While the Hendrick Motorsports team enjoyed success with Johnson and Gordon finished 2nd and 3rd in the points, the team suffered a major off-track tragedy. On October 24, during the race weekend at Martinsville, a Hendrick Motorsports plane carrying engine builder Randy Dorton, team President John Hendrick, Vice President Jeff Turner, and Rick Hendrick’s 24 year old son Ricky Hendrick, and more crashed on its way to the track. Everyone on board was killed. The team was clearly affected by this, but continued with impressive performances.

Gordon started the 2005 season with a win in the Daytona 500, his fourth win in the historic season opener. But inconsistency would plague him throughout the year. While running 25th at Chicagoland, he was taken out in a turn one wreck by Mike Bliss. After the race Gordon confronted Bliss at a local airport; with the end result being a black eye for Bliss. A late season run put him in position to qualify for the Chase, but in the last race before the Chase at Richmond, Gordon made contact with the wall and failed to qualify for the chase. On September 14, 2005 Crew Chief Robbie Loomis resigned from the #24 team to go and be a consultant for the #48 team who was in the chase at that time. Gordon’s new crew chief was former car chief, Steve Letarte. He went on to finish 11th in the Championship and received a $1,000,000 bonus as the top driver finishing outside the Chase. It was Gordon's first time outside the top 10 in the point standings since 1993, which for the second season in a row his point standings were greatly affected by the new cup format.

On June 29, 2006, Gordon announced that he would participate in the Rolex 24 endurance sports car event at Daytona International Speedway, teaming up with SunTrust Racing drivers Max Angelelli and Wayne Taylor, who won the 2005 Rolex 24 race. His team went on to finish third, despite problems, two laps behind the winning team. Gordon won his first race of the year at the Dodge/Save Mart 350 at the Infineon Raceway the day after he announced his engagement to Belgian model Ingrid Vandebosch. Gordon also won his first race at the Chicagoland Speedway at the running of the USG Sheetrock 400. He finally made it into the Chase for the NEXTEL (Sprint) cup this year, and when it was all said and done he finished 6th, which brought him a paycheck of $7,471,447, which brought his total career winnings up to $82,838,526.

Gordon started off the 2007 Cup season by winning his Gatorade Duel 125 qualifying race, and finishing 10th in the Daytona 500. In March at the long awaited unveiling of the “Car of Tomorrow” at Bristol, he won his 58th career pole, and finished 3rd. In April at Phoenix Gordon won his 59th career pole tying Darrell Waltrip with the record, and 2 days later he won the race. In that race he tied Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 6th place in the most wins list with 76, and after winning the race he held a black #3 flag as he did a polish victory lap on honor of Earnhardt. The next week at Talladega he passed Darrell Waltrip to become the modern day pole leader. He also won that race which surpassed Earnhardt in wins, which moved him up to 6th and bumped Earnhardt down to 7th. He made the chase yet again, finishing 2nd in the points only to his teammate Jimmie Johnson. He again had the most points this year but just like in 2004 he fell victim to the new chase format. On June 20, 2007, Ingrid Vandebosch gave birth to Jeff Gordon’s first child, Ella Sofia Gordon in New York City.

In October of 2008 he got his first ever poll at the Texas Motor Speedway and almost won there for the first time but ended up finishing second only to Carl Edwards. Gordon again qualified for the chase and this time finished 7th. It was the first time since 1993 that he had gone winless throughout the season.

In 2009 Gordon had a new paint job for only the third time. This one was not as different as the second one except that the color blue was replaced with black. It was the first time in Gordon’s career that he didn’t run blue on his car. Gordon entered the Samsung 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway, with a win tally at that track of zero; he left with one. It was his 82nd career victory, and it was won at the only track besides Homestead-Miami Speedway that he has not won on. It also ended a 47 race winless streak. He ended up finishing 3rd in the points behind teammates, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin. It was the first 1-2-3 finish for one team in NASCAR history. He also became the first driver to reach $100 Million in winnings for the Cup series by finishing 3rd in the point’s standings.

Hendrick Motorsports owner, Rick Hendrick, said in November 2009 that he is working on signing a contract extension with DuPont, Gordon's primary sponsor since the beginning of his career. DuPont's current contract with Jeff Gordon expires at the end of 2010, and Hendrick said he wants it to be Gordon's primary sponsor for the rest of his career.

Gordon is a Christian. He has talked about how in the early nineties he got curious and followed some drivers to the weekly chapel one week, which is how he first started to learn more about God. Every week there is a service held before the race at the race track which any driver, crew member, NASCAR official, or anybody else can attend.