Jeff Gordon Will Live #24EVER In The Hearts Of His Fansby Hunter Thomas November 23, 2015 0 comments
Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Although Jeff Gordon finished sixth and missed out on winning his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his legendary presence will continue to radiate through the industry, likely forever.
Throughout the 2015 season, fans, racetracks, sponsors and competitors paid tribute to the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. As the season went on, it almost seemed like there was a competition to see who could honor Gordon the most.
From the moment he and his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet team stood on pit road for pre-race ceremonies prior to the Daytona 500 in February, to the moment they stepped off of pit road at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the sea of fans and photographs engulfed them.
During post-race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Gordon said, “Yeah, to me the moment that really struck me if you guys were in the garage area, and I know there was a lot of photographers there at the time, but when I got in the car for the final practice, just happened ‑‑ there was just a lot of people there, and it was ‑‑ I started to sign autographs as I was going to the car like I normally do, but it just kept growing and growing and growing and growing, and the way the infield suites are over the garage area here, there were people up there, and all of a sudden they just started chanting my name, and it was a surreal moment. I had friends that were on the outside looking in, and even they were commenting on it.”
Racetracks presented Gordon with gifts, such as a bandolero race car, paintings, Shetland ponies and much more. Gordon’s number was painted on walls and in the grass, and No. 24 flags flew high at main entrances.
“There simply is no way to fully express the depth of our appreciation to Jeff for all that he has done both on and off the racetrack,” said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Since his first Sprint Cup Series win at Charlotte in the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, Jeff has established himself as one of the world’s most prolific drivers and earned the respect and admiration of millions of race fans.”
Phoenix International Raceway went as far as temporarily renaming the facility to Jeff Gordon Raceway, and for the season finale, a sold out crowd held up signs that created THANK YOU JEFF 24EVER in the grandstands.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) November 23, 2015
On Sunday, many competitors wanted to savor the historical day, as well. Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and one of this year’s Champion 4 took a photo with Gordon’s car. Danica Patrick and Kyle Larson wore Jeff Gordon hats, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne also wore Gordon hats and ran yellow numbers on their cars.
“Little did I know my competitors were going to be tweeting out things, and man, the emotions started going all over again,” Gordon said. “That’s just unheard of. That’s just to me unheard of that you’re going to be going out competing against individuals, even the ones we were competing against for the championship, when Kevin Harvick took that picture next to my car, that to me ‑‑ I don’t know if it gets much better than that.”
— Drive to End Hunger (@Drive2EndHunger) November 22, 2015
— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) November 22, 2015
To add even more to the magnitude of the occasion, motorsports legend, Mario Andretti and Formula 1 superstar, Lewis Hamilton made the trip to Florida to watch Gordon make one last effort for the Drive for Five.
“Having those two guys ‑‑ and I don’t know if they had ever met before,” Gordon said. “I’m not sure because it was so cool having them at the car together and getting a picture with those three, and Lewis was so cool. He was asking a million questions. I mean, he wanted to know everything about the cars, the competition, the tires, the track, everything, my steering wheel. You know, he’s a racer, and I love that, and Mario was just cool as can be, just, “Man, go do what you know how to do, you’ve got this, man.” That was a great moment.”
— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) November 22, 2015
Throughout Jeff Gordon’s 23 years of fulltime competition in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he amassed 4 championships, 93 wins, 81 poles, 325 top-five and 475 top-10 finishes and yet, he still cried with his mother before making his final start on Sunday. That’s right folks, you’re never too old or too accomplished to hug your mother.
“It’s boohooing as loud as a person can boohoo,” said Gordon in the Media Center following the Ford EcoBoost 400. “It was when she got in the bus. She was holding back. She got emotional but she was keeping herself in check. I think she was wanting me to not lose control, so she was trying to be the stronger person, but I didn’t care, I was like, I want to get it out right now before I walk out of this bus. So there was tears pouring down my face. I was like, yes, perfect, with my mom, before the race day started, I can recover from this. I think I can get through the day now.”
Everyone who has been a long-time NASCAR fan has a Jeff Gordon memory. Back in the 1990s, a young NASCAR fan myself (See the photo below of when I was seven-years old), I also pulled for the Rainbow Warrior on Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. During Halloween, I’d dress up in the DuPont firesuit, and I’d wear a Jeff Gordon hat. As I matured and began my journey as a journalist/photographer in the industry, Jeff Gordon became just another driver.
Sure, there were times when my camera focused in on the No. 24 Chevrolet, and it reminded me of the days when I once had cheered him on at Darlington Raceway. And yes, after I’d ask him a question in the Media Center, it’d dawn on me that I just spoke with a driver I admired so much growing up. Nearly all of us media folks started out as fans of the sport. In fact, my greatest memory of Jeff was when he and Jeff Burton battled it out for the 1997 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. That was the afternoon I went from being a seven-year old who loved cars, to a seven-year old who loved NASCAR.
Now that I’ve been a member of the media going on six years, seeing Jeff Gordon compete always reminded me of how lucky I am to be able to cover the sport so many love, including myself. Many of the drivers I grew up watching have long since hung up the helmet. Gordon has become one of the final heroes of my childhood to retire, and I must say that it was quite an honor to cover him over the past few season. All that I have left to say is, thank you Jeff.