One day, NASCAR star Robby Gordon hopes to be able to tell Elon Musk to go eat his heart out.
Gordon both admires and also takes inspiration from Musk, the developer of numerous businesses, most notably Tesla automobiles and SpaceX.
Borrowing pages from Musk’s business playbook, Gordon has embarked on the most ambitious project of his life, having recently introduced a new off-road vehicle known as the Speed UTV Robby Gordon El Jefe Edition. Gordon already has thousands of pre-orders – each at a cost of $45,000 – even before full production is set to begin in January.
UTV stands for utility task vehicle, an off-road truck of sorts.
“The comparison to Elon Musk is spot-on,” Gordon told NASCAR.com. “I mean, we’re going to be able to have a lot of fun and be able to do pretty much whatever we want.”
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The UTV project is global in scope. Gordon is ever-expanding, with plants now in North Carolina and Texas and internationally in India and Vietnam.
“It took us just 18 months to go from concept to production vehicle,” Gordon said. “We even build our own tires, wheels, shock absorbers, engines and gearboxes, steering wheels, ECU computers and everything else.
“You know, of all the series I have raced on, off-road was my favorite. I started in off-road and I’m going to end in off-road. It really points to what I’m doing today.”
The new UTV is a hybrid four-wheeled ride Gordon has been dreaming about creating for much of his life, designed exclusively for off-road use. It also pays homage to Gordon’s late father, off-road racing legend “Baja Bob” Gordon, as well as the father of off-road and stadium racing, the late Mickey Thompson.
“Mickey was a supporter of mine,” Gordon said. “He knew my dad well, and he knew my talents as a race-car driver. … My dad raced with him since I was 6 years old. I knew guys like Mickey, Rick Mears, Parnelli Jones. I was very fortunate at a young age to be around the right players.”
Gordon has achieved success in every form of motorsport he has taken part in. In fact, he’s the only driver in the world who has recorded race wins in NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, stadium and off-road racing (including the legendary Baja 1000), as well as several stage wins in the Dakar Rally.
Even now, Gordon continues his pursuit of checkered flags, most notably in off-road racing as well as the Stadium Super Trucks series that he founded in 2013 and still owns. Borrowing from Thompson’s playbook, Gordon created a niche that has proven to be both popular and successful.
“I came across a partner that was going to do a Cup car with me, and I said, ‘Why don’t we do Mickey Thompson all over?’” Gordon said. “For the same amount of money, for $15 million, we could go start up our own series, right? And so basically we started Stadium Super Trucks.”
Super Trucks are just part of Gordon’s business portfolio, also owning Speed RC (radio controlled) cars, Speed Tools, Speed SXS Parts and Speed UTV.
Since its inception, SST has attracted an all-star lineup of drivers, including NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and former NASCAR drivers Casey Mears and Greg Biffle, as well as the likes of Paul Tracy, Boris Said, Max Papis and Travis Pastrana.
Yet as busy as he is, Gordon still finds time to race both off-road and in the SST series, having taken the latter global with races in Canada, Great Britain and Australia, where it became so big and popular Gordon had to form its own race series to accommodate driver interest and participation.
“I don’t know how long I’ll continue to race for,” said Gordon, now 52. “(Spanish rally driver) Carlos Sainz is (almost 60) and he’s still racing. It’s all in the mind. I think when my eyesight and my body gets to the point where I can’t compete, that’s obviously time. But I’ve got a hot-rod young kid coming up right now that we’re having some fun with as well.”
Gordon is talking about his 13-year-old son, Max. Five years ago, when Max was only 8 years old, he competed in a UTV race alongside his father. Later the same year, Max became the youngest driver to ever compete in and finish the Baja 1000. He’s now racing part-time in his father’s SST series at the age of 13.
While he has raced all over the world and racked up numerous wins and championships — including a record seven SCORE International off-road titles (five of those were consecutive, from 1986-90), plus three wins in the noted Baja 1000 and four victories in the Baja 500 — Gordon is known to many racing fans for his time in NASCAR.
From 1991 through 2012, Gordon made 396 NASCAR Cup Series starts, racing for several notables like Junie Donlavey, Robert Yates, Dale Earnhardt, Felix Sabates, John Menard and Richard Childress. He also raced for legendary A.J. Foyt in CART in the early 1990s, as well as in sports cars early in his career for Jack Roush.
Gordon earned three wins in his Cup tenure, with his first coming in November 2001 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (The race had been postponed originally due to the 9/11 tragedy; Gordon donated all earnings to a fund to help victims’ families.) The other two victories were on the road courses at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International in 2003, his best season in Cup racing (finished 16th).
Also of note, Gordon is the only driver in racing history to attempt “The Double” — racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 500 on the same day — five times. He came close in both races several times but was never able to capture a win at either venue.
Gordon said the most satisfying time of his NASCAR tenure was the nearly 3 ½ seasons he drove for Childress from mid-2001 through the end of the 2004 season.
“Richard was another rad guy, he was a race-car driver that turned team owner,” Gordon said. “And he just knew how to deal with personalities like myself and Dale (Earnhardt). Richard was probably my fondest memory of NASCAR.”
Childress took Gordon under his wing and taught him how to run a business, as well as get investors and sponsors, which proved immensely valuable to Gordon not only when he went back to running his own team (2005-12), but also when he started building his post-NASCAR businesses.
“Richard was the biggest inspiration during my NASCAR career,” Gordon said. “He was probably the best guy to have conversations with. … I mean, it was every conversation. Even after I left the team, he’d say, ‘I don’t know if I’d do that Robby,’ or, ‘You know what, you probably need to do that, Robby.’
“And at the end of the day, when I went back on my own and did my own team, Richard was like, ‘You’ve got to go do that.’ And he was supportive of it. That’s pretty cool as a team owner, that he was willing to do that with me or for me.”
Yes, Gordon misses NASCAR — except for maybe one thing.
To this day, he still has to occasionally tell some non-NASCAR fans that he is NOT Jeff Gordon, nor is he related to him. In fact, during his NASCAR days, some would jokingly refer to Robby as “the other Gordon.”
Regardless of the racing series, Gordon was known throughout his racing career as a tough rival. He incurred NASCAR’s wrath several times — leading to hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines in his career — and had numerous confrontations with several drivers, including future Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
The most publicized incident was in the 2005 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire, when Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon were involved in a wreck. A furious Gordon exited his car and waited for Waltrip to make another lap around the 1-mile oval. When Waltrip finally came around, Gordon threw his helmet at Waltrip’s car. That outburst, coupled with using a profanity on live TV afterward, made national news and led to Gordon being fined $35,000 and docked 50 driver points.
But there was a positive that came out of the incident. Gordon auctioned the helmet and raised more than $51,000 for Harrah’s Casino and Hotel employees in New Orleans who were impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
While Gordon laments he didn’t win more races in his Cup career, he’ll be forever grateful to the sport, especially the countless friends he made and the invaluable mentoring he got from folks like Childress, Sabates, Roush, Menard, Earnhardt and others.
“I’ve got to be honest, no regrets,” Gordon said. “I had great times, had terrible times. But I also learned a lot. I learned how to manufacture, how to really push the envelope week to week. And at the end of the day, no regrets by leaving whatsoever.
“If we were winning races, we’d probably still be there probably doing that. But unfortunately, I would have missed this opportunity that I have now.
“A lot of people are going to look back and say, ‘Man, if he would just have stayed with Childress, he’d have won a championship, he’d do this, he’d do that.’ The reality is if I would have done that, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today. I wouldn’t have been able to do Stadium Super Trucks, I wouldn’t have a 100,000-square-foot shop. Maybe go back seven years from today and I’d be just another 45-year-old retired race car driver if I followed that path. But instead, I followed my path, which was a path that Mickey Thompson, Dan Gurney, and AJ Foyt followed. I’m proud and happy about that.”
The Robby Gordon file:
* Age: 52.
* Hometown: Cerritos, California.
* NASCAR Cup career: 396 starts, 3 wins, 16 top-five and 39 top-10 finishes. Also 1 pole. Best season finish: 16th (2003).
* NASCAR Xfinity Series career: 54 starts, 1 win, 10 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.
* IndyCar career: 115 starts, 2 wins, 9 podiums, 4 poles.
* 7 SCORE International championships (1986–90, 1996, 2009).
* 3-time Baja 1000 winner (1987, 1989, 2006) – Gordon’s sisters, Beccy and Robyn, also competed in the 2006 race on the all-woman All-American Girl Racing team.
* 4-time Baja 500 winner (1989, 1990, 2005, 2013).
* 9 Dakar Rally stage victories.
* 4 time 24 Hours of Daytona winner.
* 3 time 12 Hours of Sebring winner.
Veteran motorsports writer Jerry Bonkowski is writing a number of Where Are They Now? stories this year for NASCAR.com. Check out stories he has already done on Ricky Craven, Terry Labonte, Kenny Wallace, Trevor Bayne, Ken Schrader, Shawna Robinson, Sam Hornish Jr., Bobby Labonte, Greg Biffle, Ricky Rudd, Darrell Waltrip, Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose and Juan Pablo Montoya.