WILKES-BARRE, Pa. -- "Shuffle up and deal."
And with those words the fourth annual Pocono Poker Tournament, benefiting The NASCAR Foundation and the Jeff Gordon's Children's Foundation kicked off on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
Hundreds of fans came from all over to meet NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, Rusty Wallace, and four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon. Both drivers received big applause from the crowd before the tournament got underway.
Gordon and Wallace weren't the only NASCAR drivers to take part in Texas Hold'em as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Michael Annett and Matt DiBenedetto were on hand as were NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Jennifer Jo Cobb, Ryan Ellis, Daniel Hemric, Ben Kennedy and Garrett Smithley. The 22-year-old Smithley, who is looking to make just the second Truck Series start of his career at Pocono, was the last driver eliminated from the action. Two-time Camping World Truck Series champion and FOX Sports 1 analyst Todd Bodine played, as did Vice Chairman of NASCAR Mike Helton (who is also the Board Chairman for The NASCAR Foundation).
In addition to the poker tournament, there was also a silent auction that took place with items such as a signed skateboard of Tony Hawk's, a pair of Annett's racing shoes and signed die-casts and other racing memorabilia available to bid on.
"NASCAR Foundation events such as the Pocono Poker Tournament showcase how the synergy of NASCAR partners, celebrities and fans can make a huge impact in the lives of children," The NASCAR Foundation Executive Director Lorene King said in a release provided by the foundation and the track. "We appreciate the support of Pocono Raceway and Mohegan Sun Pocono and look forward to using funds raised to bring technology to local middle schools in 2016."
Gordon had long wanted to be involved with this event as poker is one of his hobbies.
"I've heard of this event for several years and I've always wanted to try and get a chance to play in it," Gordon said before the cards were dealt. "For tonight to be the first time, and to honor our foundation and support that as well as The NASCAR Foundation and this being my final Pocono race, it is a fantastic opportunity for me to not only play for a great event and a great cause but interact with the fans. I look forward to that too. I'm sure they are all going to want to beat me."
The Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation was started in 1999 and supports children battling cancer by funding programs that improve patients' quality of life, treatment programs that increase survivorship and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure. In addition to supporting the Jeff Gordon Children's Hospital in Concord, North Carolina, the foundation also supports ongoing research at the Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana.
Wallace, who was the 1989 premier series champion, admitted he was a much better golfer than poker player, but he did share an interesting teaching moment he received several years ago at a celebrity event in Las Vegas from 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event winner Chris Moneymaker.
"He said 'what do you know about poker?' I said, 'nothing.' He said, 'OK. I'm going to sit in the front row and I'm going to watch you. You just look at me and whatever I tell you to do, you do.' I said, 'OK.'"
Wallace said Moneymaker added, 'When I say go all-in, you go all-in.' So I'm sitting there and I'm playing along and I look at him and he goes 'do it.' And I went all-in and everybody else just folded. So I'm like, wow that's pretty cool. I ended up having the most money when it was all said and done because everyone else blew their money so quick."
In total, $57,484 was raised, which was the highest total in the event's history and will be split evenly with the two charities. On Friday, Pocono Raceway President/CEO Brandon Igdalsky presented Gordon during his media availability session with a check for an additional $24,000.
"We want to thank all the participants in last night's Pocono Poker Tournament," Igdalsky said in a release provided by the track and foundation. "We were blown away by the number of attendees, VIP players and by how much money was raised for both The NASCAR Foundation and the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation. Additionally, a big thanks to Mohegan Sun Pocono for hosting an amazing event and for all their support these last four years. I cannot wait to start planning next year’s event."