News & Media

Gordon channels his inner child

August 23, 2011, Mark Aumann,

When time on track is done, he says his foundation will become his priority

Jeff Gordon won't be one of those guys. You know the ones, the drivers who still need that weekly shot of adrenaline even though their skills no longer match their competitive drive. The ones who stay around too long.

And some do it because they don't know what else to do. Not Gordon.

"All I can say is that right now it's hard for me to really do the things that I want to do with the children's charities because I am so limited on time."


Based on his comments last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Gordon is already preparing for an exit strategy when he hangs up the helmet. That's because, in a way, Gordon prides himself on being anything but conventional.

"I'm not at the beginning of my career, I'm certainly closer to the end," Gordon said. "I'm not saying that I'm there yet, but I'm definitely closer to it. I'm starting to build what that model is going to look like when I'm no longer driving."

But don't use the R word.

"I don't think there is such a thing as retirement," Gordon said. "I think that racing -- it's going to be hard to top what I've done in racing -- but I will certainly try in other ways because when I get behind something, I try to do it 100 percent and I want to be successful at it. I want to make a difference."

And for Gordon to make a difference, he feels he needs to spend more time with his foundation, concentrating on pediatric cancer research. It's why Gordon took a trip to Africa during an off week this summer, and why he's so adamant about doing what he can with what he has.

"All I can say is that right now it's hard for me to really do the things that I want to do with the children's charities because I am so limited on time," Gordon said. "When I have more time, I would love to do more and I think that I can make a bigger impact, because right now I feel like we're just scratching the surface with a lot of the things as it relates to children."

Some fans have had it in for Gordon from the start. He doesn't sound like a NASCAR driver. He doesn't look like a NASCAR driver. He didn't pay his dues. And even worse, he dared to be as good as Dale Earnhardt.

The rank-and-file NASCAR fans like their heroes to have a twang in their voice, a patch of red on the neck, a whole lot of "aw, shucks" and a house on Lake Norman.

And he knows he never will win over that segment of the fanbase, who will always remember that he landed a ride with Rick Hendrick as a wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old, instead of sticking to the agreement he had with Ford and Bill Davis.

But you know what? Gordon has never focused what people think he should be. He's always focused on what he is, and that's a driver who has won 84 Cup races.

"As a race car driver, I can tell you that most of what I've done throughout my life has been instinctive and taking advantage of opportunities when they came my way and tried to make good decisions with those opportunities," Gordon said.

And if you think he's lost any of that competitive fire, just watch a replay of his dustup with Jeff Burton at Texas last fall. Even if he decides to get out of the seat, Gordon still expects to have some connection to the sport.

"As an equity owner in Hendrick Motorsports, racing has always been a part of my life and I don't see how when I'm no longer driving the car, that I'll ever be able to step away from it completely because I just love it," Gordon said. "I'm a fan of it. I'm a partner with Rick.

"I love the sport and all forms of motorsports, but particularly NASCAR. There's no doubt that I want to continue to be a part of it in a big way."

But that way may not be as an active participant -- which would probably suit Gordon just fine. Because he's not typical. He's a Californian by way of Indiana who doesn't fit the classic mold. Given the choice, he'll take Manhattan.

But you know what? He'll gladly trade being a hero on the track for making a difference off it.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.