CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With a rousing 96 percent vote for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Jeff Gordon was a stone-cold lock for election from the moment his name first appeared on the ballot. But Gordon, still the picture of grace and decorum, demurred at the notion that Wednesday’s honor was a shoo-in.
“I mean, you never know until they announce it,” Gordon said after headlining the Class of 2019 with a record percentage of the vote. “I was trying not to get my hopes up or get too caught up into all of it. But yet today having my family, so many people reach out to me once the announcement came, that was fantastic.”
Voting Day for Gordon meant a celebration with his wife, Ingrid, and their children, Ella and Leo. But it also meant confirmation of his place in stock-car lore, a place among the immortal inductees, whose ranks swelled to an even 50 with Wednesday’s vote.
Very few drivers have reached the status of household names, figures that transcend motorsport. Petty and Earnhardt are the only other names that spring quickly to mind. Stats and on-track accomplishments alone were enough to merit Gordon’s inclusion, but the 46-year-old driver was the rare star who nimbly shifted from race track to the entertainment realm.
Wednesday, Gordon was in firmly on the racing side, celebrating the recognition and enjoying the achievement.
“I’m so honored,” Gordon said. “I mean, I’ve been coming here to the Hall the last several years, being a part of other inductees. Every time I’ve had a chance to come here, especially when it’s people that you worked with, like Ray Evernham, Rick Hendrick, people that you know, that you competed against like Mark Martin, those are when you start to realize how special this is. NASCAR has made it so special.
“I’ve always said that timing has been on my side in my career. The timing couldn’t be better than right now to be going into the Hall of Fame. This is very special.”
For Gordon, timing was part of a recurring theme that helped shape his illustrious career. The timing of meeting the right people steered him from a path toward Indianapolis-style cars to the Buck Baker Driving School and headlong into the stock-car world.
“To me, I was a kid from California that was racing sprint cars and midgets in Indiana, came down to North Carolina hoping and dreaming of something,” Gordon said. “But I didn’t know much about NASCAR racing.”
That background, Gordon said, made Wednesday’s honor all the more surreal. His path in NASCAR eventually led to crew chief Ray Evernham and car owner Rick Hendrick, who preceded Gordon into the Hall of Fame. Their combination yielded multiple championships, victories by the dozens and a foundation that launched Gordon into the elite.
“Those two are like family to me,” Gordon said. “To be able to follow them is very, very, very special to me. They’re obviously extremely deserving. I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for those two. Besides my parents, I owe those two everything, how they contributed to my life in more than just racing, but especially racing, when you look at the success we had on track.”
It was Evernham who suggested another fortunate aspect of Gordon’s timing, the opportunity to share the celebration surrounded by his family during a special broadcast at FOX Sports’ studios.
“I am super, super happy for him to be recognized,” Evernham said. “It was kind of a no-brainer, but when you look at everything he’s done and how much of an ambassador he’s been for the sport on top of everything else, he’s a pretty phenomenal guy.
“And I’m happy that this is something he can share with his children. I know that’s important to him because they didn’t get to see all of the wins and all of the championships. They got to see some and do some things, and this I’m sure will be the highest honor of his career and he gets to share that with his family, so really happy for him.”