Most people probably don’t know that I have any interest in sports at all.
Sports that I actually play myself are limited to only bowling and mini golf. I like to ice skate, but not competitively. And I am not very good at any of those things. I consider it a successful bowling game if I break 100. Mini golf as well. ;-P
The only professional sports I have ever cared about were ice hockey and NASCAR. My interest in both grew around 1993/1994.
My love of hockey grew from my asbestos friend being the spokesmodel for our nearby ECHL team, the Toledo Storm. You can read more about that here: http://imnotstalkingyou.com/2013/04/16/how-i-came-to-be-a-vancouver-canucks-fan/
My love of NASCAR grew from liking to watch cars crash. And also a new driver by the name of Jeff Gordon.
As we were not a household with any males (even the dog was a female), we really didn’t watch that many sporting events. Not even the Superbowl. If not for the kids at school, I never even would have known when that took place. (And I think that I would have preferred that.)
But we would usually watch the Indianapolis 500, because, c’mon, who hasn’t heard of that? But if there is a wreck, the Indy cars just disintegrate. Where is the fun in that? Now a stock car, they take on damage, get duct-taped up, and keep running laps.
The Michigan International Speedway actually resides in the same county I do. One year (1993, I looked it up) Ricky Rudd’s Tide car was supposed to be at our local Walmart. I think we went to look at it. Anyway, that car was already ingrained in our brains when we watched the race that weekend. (Michigan races used to always be on one of the broadcast networks. Not the case anymore.) We rooted for Ricky Rudd. His orange car was pretty and easy to spot during the race. And he actually frickin’ won the race! My mom and I even went to my grandma’s high rise old person apartment building in Adrian to watch the race trucks (now we know the correct terminology is “haulers”) come down M-52 through town.
Also, notable in the race, was another car with a pretty paint job that was very eye catching: the #24 DuPont Chevy, driven by rookie Jeff Gordon. He finished second.
Jeff Gordon show car
Shortly after that, we were lucky enough to get cable, so then we could watch the NASCAR races on ESPN as well. Soon that evolved into watching three hours of pre-race shows on Sunday before the three hour race itself. For several years, I could lay in my bed and recognize the voice of which NASCAR Winston Cup driver was being interviewed on TV in the living room. And that is not as easy as you may think, as they almost all have southern accents.
Except Jeff Gordon.
Young Jeff Gordon
His accent has always been way crazy. North Carolina, by way of Pittsboro, Indiana (more on this later) and Vallejo, California.
I soon developed a crush on Jeff Gordon, which only intensified after he lost his wannabe mustache and mullet. My mom and I always gave credit to his new wife Brooke for “grooming” him, although NASCAR, realizing his potential appeal to the masses, may have had something to do with that as well.
I would later meet someone (a cousin-in-law) who actually was at Jeff & Brooke’s wedding. He had been dating a sorority sister of Brooke’s at the time.
My mom and I watched almost every Winston Cup race every weekend for a several years. We rode the rise of popularity of NASCAR, along with that of Gordon. We would watch as Dale Earnhardt would be limping around the track after a crash, accumulating laps with a crippled race car, getting lapped by the field. But every time Jeff Gordon showed up in the rear view mirror, Earnhardt raced him as if it was the final lap.
See, in Winston Cup, there is one King, and that is Richard Petty. He won 7 Winston Cup championships.
There is one Intimidator. That is Dale Earnhardt. He won 7 championships too.
I have read where Earnhardt affectionately gave Jeff the nickname “Wonder Boy.” I doubt there was much affection there…
The first Winston Cup race Jeff Gordon ever raced in was the final race of Richard Petty, as he moved into retirement. I am not the only one who feels that race was rich with symbolism. Read more about it here.
I had Jeff pegged to tie or set a new championship record from the beginning. So it was no surprise to me when he won Rookie of the Year in 1993. Or his first Winston Cup Championship in 1995.
Then I got a job and a boyfriend, and no longer had time for such things.
Jeff Gordon’s #24 at MIS
Although, said boyfriend did take me to a practice and a Cup race at MIS. I got to see Jeff Gordon’s car in person as it sped around the track. Wasn’t quite the same as being able to actually see or meet him though. And I learned that while I prefer to watch hockey games in person, I prefer my car racing on television.
I still loved Jeff, but I was no longer rooting for him every week. I heard about his divorce from Brooke because it made news for her large demands on the fortune he had accumulated as he rose up in NASCAR. I was aware, but not watching, when the series went from being sponsored by Winston cigarettes to Nextel, then changed again to Sprint. I missed when DuPont stopped being his sponsor. I missed a few more of his championships. I missed fun TV moments like this one below.
I wasn’t watching when Jeff Gordon got married a second time and the happy couple started popping out kids. I was busy getting married and having one of my own.
My own Gordon fan.
As the holidays approached in 2014, Michigan International Speedway was having a toy and canned food drive. Like, literally. If you brought an unwrapped toy or a bag of food to the race track, they would let you DRIVE on it.
My husband was working, but I took my preschooler son with me. I talked my mom into going with me. She never ever wants to go anywhere. But since there was no walking involved, she had continued to follow NASCAR after I had, and she was intensely curious, she came with me. For more on this adventure, click here: http://imnotstalkingyou.com/2014/12/07/what-i-learned-this-week-12714/
It was so weird to drive on those high banks with my little Jeep Patriot. At the time I reflected, “I felt a little closer to Jeff Gordon that day.” I had trod on the same hallowed pavement that he had. Maybe it was some kind of sign that I should be thinking of Jeff again after all these years…
The view of the track through my windshield
Then on January 22, 2015, all that changed. I was actually out on a rare date with my husband at a sports bar. And there, on all the televisions tuned to the various sports networks, was Jeff Gordon announcing that 2015 would be his last year to race. He was retiring.
I feel really bad for my husband, but I spent most of our date watching the interviews with Jeff.
So, this year, I made it a point to rededicate myself to watching NASCAR and rooting for Jeff Gordon. Except, well, that is hard when you don’t have all the channels the races are on. But, I am doing the best I can. I discovered that I could follow Jeff on all the social media that had not even existed when he started racing. I have already pre-ordered my commemorative diecast of the Axalta Chevy for Bristol pimped out in the classic DuPont paint scheme. And I drove 9 hours round trip to go see him in person.
Yes, you read that right.
My son and I (my husband had to work) made the long trip from Michigan to Pittsboro, Indiana for their parade in celebration of Jeff Gordon Day. I figured it might be my last chance to ever see him in person. I am usually a planner. I didn’t plan much for the trip, except to pack lots of snacks for my little guy. I hate driving on expressways, especially in big cities. But, they are the fastest way to get somewhere in a hurry, and Indianapolis was standing between me and Jeff.
My son and I pulled out the driveway at 4:40AM, he still in his pajamas, soon fell back asleep, leaving me to be my own navigator, reading my printed out MapQuest directions inside the dark car. I hate driving (Danica will get no competition from me), but I had been itching to take a trip, so it wasn’t so bad. I watched the sun rise as I drove through Ohio. I passed a deer nibbling in the fields. I saw a locomotive parked on the track. I wanted to point it out to my son, but couldn’t. He slept clean through Ohio. We were just outside Indy when I had to wake him up so that I could use the restroom.
After putting on his clothes in the backseat of the car and fortifying ourselves with granola bars, I attempted to conquer the beast that is Indianapolis…and I went the wrong way on the 465 loop. I drove 3/4 of the way around the city, before finally reaching my exit. Good thing I had added in an extra hour of drive time, just in case.
Downtown Pittsboro, Indiana
When we reached Pittsboro, all the businesses had signs up in their windows that said “No Public Restroom.” They wanted you to use the porta potties in the town park, where the festivities were. I bought two cookies at Subway and used their bathroom. Best $1.09 I ever spent. Pittsboro is smaller than my hometown of Blissfield. It doesn’t even have it’s own high school.
There was a drawing to meet Jeff Gordon. Only 5 winners were chosen who each got to bring a guest. Winners would be notified by cell phone at a designated time. The guy sitting near me on the parade route won. We all heard the phone call. He picked the chick right next to him to be his guest. He had never met her. Didn’t even know her name.
Yes, it stung a bit that he didn’t pick me.
Jeff Gordon Day Parade, June 23, 2015 in Pittsboro, Indiana
Jeff went by in the parade very quickly. I was waiting for his face to be one of those in the passing cars, it was, and then he was gone in a flash. We quickly walked over and got a good spot in front of the stage to watch the festivities. My son was thoroughly unimpressed with it all. I had a demented fantasy where my son would get lost, then find Jeff’s son Leo, they would play together, and then I would get to meet Jeff when I was reunited with my son. But I didn’t lose my kid and never got to meet Jeff. And I didn’t see his wife or kids there either, although I did see his step-father.
But, I got to lay my own eyes on Jeff and hear his voice with my own ears, so that is something.
“Look at my junk!” Not really. He was actually pointing to his new honorary police badge.
I would have possibly pursued trying to meet or get an autograph from him further is I didn’t have my tike with me. But by the time Jeff finished, both us pale folk had withered in the hot Indiana mid-day sun. We tried to eat in town, but everything seemed to be a bar. So we headed out of town to the nearest exit with more choices.
Now I wish I would have bummed around longer. Driven past his old high school or hunted down the house he grew up in.
I still have hopes for another championship this year. This season hasn’t been the smoothest, but it hasn’t been all bad either.
Even if Jeff Gordon wins this year, he will not tie or break the 7 time Cup Championship record set by Petty and tied by Earnhardt. But he is definitely not going to be forgotten.
Below is actual video footage of Jeff Gordon break dancing. It comes after the 4 minute mark. There is lots of razzing by the other drivers before the 4 minute mark.
Now who will I root for? I kinda like that kid, what’s his name, that won the Daytona 500 this year? Ah yes, Joey Logano. My son even made up a catchy song for his name.
The best I ever did for Jeff was fit his name into that old Lizzy Bordon rhyme.
Follow the romantic entanglements of The Riley Sisters in my books:
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