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Gordon scores touchdown for philanthropy

August 03, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Hendrick Motorsports star given Heisman Humanitarian Award for foundation

LONG POND, Pa. -- When it comes to carrying the ball for charity, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon has few peers.

Friday, with the Heisman Trophy -- college football's signature award of excellence -- on display at Pocono Raceway, the Heisman Foundation recognized Gordon's commitment to philanthropy, naming him the seventh winner of the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

"Like the Heisman Trophy itself, Jeff Gordon has created a legacy of excellence both on the field of competition and for the greater good of society," said Heisman Trust spokesman Jim Corcoran, citing more than $11 million the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation has raised for childhood cancer initiatives, both in the U.S. and Rwanda.

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Tim Brown, Jim Corcoran and George Rogers announce Jeff Gordon as the 2012 Heisman Humanitarian Award recipient.

"The Trust's decision to honor Jeff was very easy. Jeff and his foundation's tireless efforts to fund pediatric medical research, programs that improve patients' quality of life and treatment programs that increase survivorship will undoubtedly bring us closer to a cure [for cancer]. "

Gordon expressed gratitude, not only for the award and the $50,000 donation to his charity which comes with it, but for his unique opportunity to give back as one of his sport's most recognizable personalities.

"We work so hard out here to try to win and yet, 10, 15 years from now what it is all going to mean?" said Gordon, who established his foundation after his crew chief Ray Evernham's son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1992. "These trophies are nice, but they tarnish. But when you save a child's life and you have something as meaningful as this [award], those are things that stick with you a lifetime.

"You always want your efforts to be recognized. This is a very, very proud moment for that. It doesn't get any better than being recognized by excellence, which is what the Heisman is all about."

Gordon's Sprint Cup Chevrolet is sponsored by AARP's Drive to End Hunger (a program that has donated more than 12.9 million meals for people over the age of 50). But, for all his philanthropic efforts, Gordon said his regret is that he can't do more.

"I struggle with this on a day-to-day basis," he said. "I've got two children and a wife and a trip to Rwanda on an 'off' weekend is not an easy thing to pull off.

"You want to do it all. I do the best that I can and I sleep good at night knowing that I'm doing the best that I can in trying to balance it all out. [That goes] from my focus on racing and doing my job here, to being a good dad, but also giving back as much as I can -- especially to my foundation which [funds] pediatric cancer research.

"We're seeing a lot more success. The cure rate on the majority of cancers has gone very high. But you still see so many kids suffering and dying and it just doesn't need to happen."

Gordon, who turns 41 on Saturday, said his charity work gives him something to look forward to once his career as a driver ends.

"I do look forward to that day when I really feel like I'll be able to dedicate myself that way and put a lot more time into [philanthropy]," he said.

Gordon was flanked at the NASCAR podium by Heisman Trophy winners George Rogers (1980, South Carolina) and Tim Brown (1987, Notre Dame).

"I haven't been your size since high school," Rogers, a beefy running back, said humorously to Gordon.

Brown joked that Gordon was now a Heisman "fraternity brother."

"I've got to teach him the secret handshake and he's going to be OK," Brown said.

Jimmie Johnson, himself a prolific contributor to children's charities, tipped his cap to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.

"Fund-raising and charitable work is only as successful as the name who's behind it -- and that's Jeff," Johnson said. "I'm very happy for him. That's an amazing honor. I think he's extremely deserving for the effort he and his (foundation) have put in place to make the right decisions to raise money."

Heisman Trophy Trust president William J. Dockery also lauded Gordon's efforts in a news release.

"NASCAR fans know Jeff Gordon as one of the greatest drivers in the history of stock-car racing," Dockery said. "But to a multitude of children and families facing pediatric cancer, he is something far greater: an ally in their battle to live. Jeff's selfless actions through the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation exemplify all the attributes we look for in a Heisman Humanitarian honoree."

Gordon is the first award recipient from the world of motorsports. Previous honorees have included three NFL stars (Warrick Dunn, Marty Lyons and George Martin), soccer standout Mia Hamm, NHL Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine and Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheek (water polo).

Gordon will be formally recognized at the 78th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner in New York on Dec. 10. Tickets for the event, the only one during Heisman Weekend that is open to the public, are available for purchase at www.Heisman.com.