Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Sponsor Pays Unique Tribute to Gordon With 24 Questions

While @JeffGordonWeb is taking his last ride of the season this weekend at Homestead, one of his sponsors will also be taking their final trip around the track as well.  So, to honor their partnership over the past five years, Gordon’s sponsor AARP’s @Drive2EndHunger has developed a unique tribute focusing on that infamous number 24.

Through social media, they asked fans of the 24 to come up with one question that they had always wanted to ask their favorite driver.  24 of those questions were then selected, answered by Gordon and compiled by AARP’s Drive to End Hunger in a You Tube video here.

“We wanted to do something really for the fans,” Jen Martin, AARP Community Strategist, said.  “Doing the social media for Drive to End Hunger for the last five years, I’ve seen some of the most amazing questions. I’ve tried to answer them as I can or try to get those answers but then we had this neat idea to crowdsource them.”

“So, we put it out on Facebook and asked the fans what would be the one question they would want to ask Jeff Gordon if they had the chance.”

The social media responses from the fans far exceeded Martin’s wildest expectations, with over 450 questions pouring in.

“A lot of the questions were similar,” Martin said. “We picked the 24 most unique ones and went from there.”

The selected 24 questions and Gordon’s 24 answers ranged from what he ate before a race to his favorite dance move. There were however, also some more serious questions and answers.

“I loved the question about who he would sit down with if he had a moment,” Martin said. “And his answer was God. I actually thought it might have been another driver or maybe his idol from childhood. For it to be a spiritual kind of answer, I thought it was really interesting that he said that.”

Another of the 24 questions asked was how Gordon would feel to be in the championship hunt. What was even more interesting is that the question was asked and answered in September, well before Gordon had even made it to the final four.

“We asked the questions in August so we had no idea that Jeff would be running for the championship,” Martin said. “We got the questions in August, it took about a week to go through them all, and select the ones that we thought were good. We sent our ideas to Hendrick Motorsports and then agreed on the 24 questions.”

“We literally had one day to film all of them with Jeff on September 10th.  I’m sure he had a feeling that running for the championship was what he wanted to do but I don’t think anyone knew that this was going to happen for him.”

While Martin and the DTEH team are hopeful that all fans take a look at the video, they are especially excited to see the reactions of fans whose questions made it to the final 24.

“I’m especially excited to see the fans’ reactions to seeing their question asked and then answered by Jeff,” Martin said. “I’m sure that will be special and very meaningful for them.”

Although Gordon will not be behind the wheel of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger car for his final run this weekend, the DTEH team will be on hand at Homestead doing what they have always done, sharing pictures, tweets and Facebook posts as their driver takes the checkered flag for the final time.

“I still want to give the fans as much of a front row seat as to what it is like to be at this race,” Martin said. “This is a very bittersweet race for us as I’m sure it is for the fans. I can’t imagine having been a life-long fan of Jeff and to then witness his final race.”

“I’m reading what the fans are sharing now and it’s really sad because they love Jeff so much. He has meant so much to them and it’s really heartwarming. So, I really want to be able to share that story about his final race this weekend with the fans.”

As with so many of the 24 and Jeff Gordon fans, this last race weekend will also be emotional for the Drive To End Hunger team.

“I’m definitely going to shed some tears,” Martin said. “I witnessed one win of Jeff’s, the 2012 Homestead win when he was in the Axalta car. I can literally go back and say that was the best experience I’ve ever had at AARP doing a work event.”

“Being in Victory Lane and standing next to Jeff Gordon and cheering my face off was the most incredible experience. So, the opportunity to maybe do that again on an even bigger stage with the championship, I just cannot imagine.”

While the sponsorship partnership between Jeff Gordon and AARP’s DTEH will end at Homestead, the need for awareness of helping those who are hungry remains. And with Thanksgiving right around the corner, the last NASCAR race of the season and for Jeff Gordon is the perfect opportunity to remind fans to continue to help.

“So, after fans have a chance to check out the 24 questions and answers video, they can also text HUNGER to 50555 to donate or donate through www.drivetoendhunger.org,” Martin said. “It is a good reminder that during this holiday season there are a lot of older people who don’t have a meal.”

“In addition to the 24 Questions with 24 video, we’ll be mentioning the need to help others this weekend, to always think about that.”

“So, even though Drive to End Hunger is ending its role with Jeff Gordon this weekend, the need for meals for seniors will not go away, nor will DTEH’s efforts to stay connected to the NASCAR community.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Pearn Counting on Location Advantage Headed Into Phoenix

While most of the Chase competitors have sent their race cars on to Phoenix from Texas, the Furniture Row Racing team out of Denver, Colorado has been busy back at the shop working on their cars and sleeping in their own beds.

And @colepearn, rookie crew chief for @MartinTruex_Jr, feels that may just give the No. 78 race team the edge needed to propel them into the final four racing for the championship.

“It’s nice to be able to come back here to the shop and have time to work on our Phoenix car while everybody’s else’s cars are already out there or on their way,” Pearn said. “It’s nice to have that extra time and I like to feel that is a location advantage in the run between Texas and Phoenix.”

In addition to the location, Pearn is also feeling a bit of an advantage going into Phoenix due to the recent test in which he and his team participated.

“We tested there about a month ago and were pretty happy with it,” Pearn said. “We’re trying to build on that and fix the things where we need to be better.

“Right now, we’re just really focused on trying to bring the best car to Phoenix that we can bring, as far as making sure we have good speed. And then once we get into the race weekend, just keeping everybody focused on dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s and minimizing mistakes will be critical. If we do all that, hopefully, that is what gets us through to the final round.”

As Pearn looks forward to the upcoming eliminator race in Phoenix, he admitted to taking the many lessons learned throughout his rookie crew chief season with him into the fray.

“I’ve definitely learned to get tighter with all my calls over this year,” Pearn said. “I’m just trying to be as proficient as I can be. Any small slip or mistake is really what can kill you in this series. I’ve definitely been getting better and better with that as the year goes. And I feel that will help us move on.”

Pearn also plans to build on the momentum of his accomplishments, as well as lessons learned from challenges, headed into the race in the Valley of the Sun.

“In addition to getting into the Chase, I think one of the biggest accomplishments this year was getting the win,” Pearn said. “That was great.  Also, having the consistency we’ve had and being able to run well on so many different kinds of tracks has been another major accomplishment.

“I think the biggest challenge this year has been the rules package changes. This summer, having to deal with two different rules packages was a tremendous amount of work. I don’t think anyone could have foreseen that coming. That definitely added to the workload this year.”

Pearn acknowledged that facing these challenges, as well as the challenges ahead for Furniture Row Racing, particularly with a change in manufacturer, has only served to strengthen the team often referred to as an underdog.

“I think when you get into the heat of the battle and you look at the competitors around you, we’re just trying to get all we can get to stay with them and be better than them. Whether we’re an underdog or not because of our situation, when you’re in the battle, you really don’t have time to think about any of that.

“We’re doing the things we have to do to get ready for next year but definitely if one focus has to be shifted, this year is the trump card. To come this far, we’re definitely focused on the championship and if we have to make it up on the back end next year, so be it.”

One thing that Pearn has definitely been thinking long and hard about is his driver and how admiration and respect he has for him.

“I have admired Martin for his determination to get everything he can get and be realistic at the same time,” Pearn said. “He’s really good about never flying off the handle and staying focused. He doesn’t let bumps in the road disturb him and I think that’s what shows in his consistency.”

Pearn is more than ready as he prepares for the Phoenix race to show that consistency once more with a run that will propel the No. 78 team into the championship four.

“I definitely feel fortunate to have made it this far and hopefully we’ll make more of it when we get into Phoenix,” Pearn said. “I think just getting through this weekend will be the biggest challenge.

“If we can do that, we’ll have as good a shot as anybody when it comes to Homestead.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Honoring Veterans a Year-Round Job for Pocono’s Bob Pallo

As America honors those in the military past and present this Veteran’s Day, @poconoraceway has made the commitment to pay tribute to those in uniform year-round by hiring Bob Pallo to serve as Vice President of Military Affairs.

Pallo has worked at Pocono since 1978, having served as the track photographer as well as working in sales. In his sales role, Pallo created a large military presence by securing the first military flyover in 1984 and ensuring that all in uniform are honored at every major Pocono event.

“With the blessings of Dr. Mattioli many years ago, he had me working with various military groups, inviting soldiers and families to be his guests at the race track as a way of saying ‘thank you’ and appreciating their volunteering to serve our country,” Pallo told POPULAR SPEED.

“It’s continually evolved, and a month and a half ago, the President and CEO and the COO asked if I would be interested in a new position at the track in Military Affairs. It took me about three seconds of debating before I said yes!”

In addition to involving the military in the pre-race activities, from the bands to the color guards, Pallo hopes to focus now on bigger and better ways of supporting the military and their families. The program he hopes to immediately expand is the Volunteer Staff Program.

“A few years ago, I was named Honorary Commander of the 314 Recruiting Squadron, and in speaking with them, one of their problems was on their fundraising side being able to come up with programs that were legal in the military’s eyes that could raise money for the year end awards banquet,” Pallo explained.

“As a test pilot program with them and through their booster club, the Volunteer Staff Program was developed and has turned into one of the finest programs. The quality of the military persons who volunteer as staff on race day has been exceptional, and the race fans really appreciate it. And then what we do is to make a donation per military volunteer per day to their foundation or charitable group to help them. It’s a win-win for Pocono and the military group.”

Pallo believes that his new position is critical as NASCAR, as well as NASCAR’s sponsors, are the most patriotic of any groups in any sports.

“I see the patriotism at every event. The best example is our driver introductions at Pocono Raceway,” he said. “We use Humvees to transport the drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is introduced, and he is applauded as he takes his lap around the track. Jeff Gordon does the same.

“But the final lap down the front straightaway are all fourteen Humvees packed full of the participating soldiers and it is a roaring standing ovation for the military from the fans as they go down the front straightaway. And that just demonstrates how proud, patriotic and supportive the NASCAR fans are of those men and women who serve our country.”

For Pallo, every day is special when it comes to honoring the military and their families. But Veteran’s Day is especially important as the entire nation pauses to honor those in uniform, past and present.

“Starting as early as this past Saturday, I’ve been out every day with our Pocono military pace truck, a Tahoe that has all branches of service decaled on it,” Pallo said. “I’ve been participating in every parade and every military event and function that I can possibly attend just to show Pocono’s support for our veterans, as well as those currently serving and the family members that line the street who appreciate the thoughts and prayers.

“I’m currently tossing a coin as I’ve been invited to participate in the Philadelphia Veteran’s Day parade as well as an event in Reading, PA. And I can’t be in both, so I have the most difficult decision to make in my new capacity. But God willing, I’ll make the right decision, and I’ll be at one of them.”

Pallo is especially passionate about honoring not only those in service but also the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers and children who support them. And for Pallo, the support of military families is most personal.

“I believe that the soldier may raise his right hand, and volunteer to serve but the wife and the children did not,” Pallo said. “So, the people that I really appreciate are the families, and I hope the race fans realize the sacrifice that the families make. I know it first hand as I have my two boys who are both serving in the Army right now.

“My youngest is in South Korea, serving as a military police. He is soon to come home in 34 days right now. My oldest is in Fort Bliss, Texas working on tanks. So, I’m a very proud military father.”

While Pallo will be busy on Veteran’s Day this year, he is also preparing for the two Pocono races scheduled in the 2016 NASCAR season.

“For June 2016, I have a verbal commitment as of now for the Wall of Remembrance to be displayed at the track,” Pallo said. “And we are working on every aspect that we can to show our appreciation for all who serve. I tried to sign up during the draft years, and I ended up being military exempt due to a medical issue.

“So, I made up my mind way back the that if I couldn’t serve directly in uniform, I would serve as a civilian any way I could to support our service members and our troops. And that is exactly what I will do in my new role at Pocono Raceway.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Truex Confident with Chase Chances Coming Down to Phoenix

After an eventful weekend in the Lone Star state, @MartinTruex_Jr proved that he was still in it to win it.

The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision Chevrolet finished eighth at Texas Motor Speedway and remains in that coveted top four in the Chase standings, just six points behind leader Jeff Gordon.

Truex Jr.’s weekend started with a relatively poor qualifying effort, starting the race in the 23rd spot with a time of 27.608 seconds and a speed of 195.595 miles per hour. The disappointing starting spot was also compounded by the lack of practice due to rain.

In spite of those challenges, Truex had a fast car when the checkered flag flew.  He quietly but quickly worked his forward throughout the AAA Texas 500. By Lap 18, Truex was in the top-10 and by Lap 22, he cracked the top five, where he stayed until the closing laps of the race.

“We had a really fast car all day,” Truex said. “We didn’t qualify well and not having any practice on Saturday (due to a wet track) was a little bit of a concern. But our crew chief (Cole Pearn) and his talented staff of engineers rose to the challenge and once again gave me a competitive car.”

In fact, Truex was so competitive during the race that he actually began to tussle with race leader at the time Brad Keselowski, who had led a track record of over 300 laps. Truex and Keselowski raced head to head in the latter part of the race, at one point even trading some paint.

“We just rubbed a little bit there in the tri-oval,” Truex said. “No big deal at all. We were both racing hard. Good hard racing-rubbing a little.”

“Rubbing is racing. It was fun.”

That tussle, which caused Truex to fall back and out of contention for the lead, was just the start of the solo team driver’s problems. He then suffered a double loss, that of a loose right-front wheel as well as the loss of power steering.

“Once the right-front wheel started to shake I realized I had a serious problem,” Truex said. “And then the power steering went away.”

“I wish I could have hung with Brad a little longer, but my right front wheel starting shaking. We were lucky to hang on and get what we did because with five laps to go, the power steering quit working; it broke a fitting or something.”

“One of those weird days where I thought we had a shot at the win. Our car was real fast at the end of the race. Just a loose wheel and the power steering killed us.”

With the double whammy in full swing, Truex decided he just needed to get his Chevrolet to the checkered flag and salvage the best finish possible for himself and his team.

“At that point I just wanted to hang on and get the car to the checkered flag. I had to conserve at the end, running about 70 percent just to make sure we got to the finish line with all the wheels on the car and not lose a whole bunch of points.”

“It’s a shame we let this slip away, but on the other hand I guess it could have been worse.”

And instead of being much worse, Truex was able to hold onto that fourth and final position in the points standing. With one race remaining in the Eliminator 8 round, he currently sits four points out of second, three points from third, with a seven-point cushion over fifth place driver Carl Edwards.

“We’re still in good shape but it sure would have been nice to have those five or six points that we lost,” Truex said after recording his 22nd top-10 of the season. “Nobody said this was going to be easy.”

Truex, as with his other seven competitors, will now turn his attention to the last race of the season before the championship run at Homestead. And the driver of the Furniture Row team is all about the upcoming race at Phoenix.

“It’s all going to come down on who can perform and survive Phoenix next week,” Truex said. “We feel good about Phoenix — we had a good test there recently.”

“We are in good shape,” Truex continued. “Certainly we would have like to have finished where we should have today. We should have run top-three and should have had a shot at winning. All-in-all, we didn’t beat ourselves.”

“We are still in it. We will have to go to Phoenix and run hard and put together a really good run.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

D’Hondt Celebrating the ‘Best Four Years’ as Gordon Spotter

While @EddieDHondt has enjoyed a storied 18 year career as a spotter, he is celebrating the last four years spent with @JeffGordonWeb as his very best.

In fact, D’Hondt and Team 24 had much to celebrate just this past race weekend at Martinsville, where Gordon fended off Jamie McMurray to take the checkered flag and score his 93rd career win.

“The timing was good to have won that race,” D’Hondt told POPULAR SPEED. “I think any driver will tell you that he’s got a set of tracks that he favors more than all the rest. Certainly when we go to Martinsville there is always the chance that we’re going to outperform everyone else.

“We had a really, really good car. I don’t know that we had the best car. We might have had the best car at the end once the rubber got put down on a long run but it was a crazy, crazy day with a lot of emotion from a lot of different people. And that worked its way out to be favorable to us.”

The Hendrick Motorsports team, including D’Hondt, celebrated not only a race win but also having earned a coveted spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami and the chance to compete for the Sprint Cup Series championship.

“Wow, I don’t think it’s sunk in for me yet that we’re in the Chase,” D’Hondt said. “To be brutally honest, I expected us to be there last year. And then in the blink of an eye in Texas, with two laps to go with a 14 car length away from a win and just three minutes later, we were 28th and two laps down. And we missed the Chase.

“We ran really, really good last year with four wins, eight second place finishes. We haven’t run as good this year and here we are in the Chase. It’s just kind of crazy.”

While D’Hondt and Gordon have celebrated many wining moments together, they have also had to change and evolve their relationship in order to be successful.

“This is my fourth year with Jeff as his spotter.” D’Hondt said. “We’ve evolved. There are times where I’ve got to be a cheerleader. But I pick and choose my spots for that and only when I think it’s warranted. We’ve developed what he wants to know about, like lines that other people are running that may be faster.

“I also look at a Fan Scan so I can look at lap times when I want to. I’ll look at the cars behind him, especially if they are catching him and look at what they are doing. I also listen to the race broadcast, be it on radio or television, to get more information that I might not get just watching it myself. It’s what I choose to do so I can provide enough information to get the best finish we can from my standpoint. You don’t always get it all right, but if you get a good portion of it right, it helps.”

In addition to the evolution of the relationship between spotter and driver, D’Hondt acknowledged that the role of spotter in general has changed particularly in the past few years.

“What’s happened is that a large portion of the crew chiefs are now engineers,” D’Hondt said. “It never used to be that way. The crew chief used to be the guy who grew up on the short track and learned about shocks and springs and could call a race.

“Now, you’ve got engineering graduates out of college that are learning our sport, getting on the box for a few years and then taking over as crew chiefs. They don’t talk as much as the older guys once did. So, therefore, that’s kind of fallen into the spotters’ laps where we’re spending more time filling that role.”

In addition to spotting for four-time champion Jeff Gordon, D’Hondt also keeps his skills fresh by working with other drivers in other NASCAR series and even series in other forms of motorsports.

“I’ve actually done 103 races so far this year,” D’Hondt said. “I work every series, including the Rolex Series for a Ferrari team. I work with Cole Custer and Cameron Hayley in the Truck Series and in the XFINITY Series, I’ve worked with Ben Rhodes and a bunch of kids.”

And while his primary gig this year is with Gordon and Team 24, D’Hondt already has next year nailed down as the spotter for @chaseelliott, who will be taking over the reins of the No. 24 beginning in 2016.

So, what will these next few races be like for D’Hondt as he celebrates the end of his driver’s Hall of Fame worthy career?

“I’m trying not to let that into my head, but it’s hard. We’re a very, very close knit group. We’re pretty attached; all of us are,” D’Hondt said. “Jeff, I always tell people, is the consummate professional. I don’t know how to explain it. He is what he is and he’s different. He’s never condescending to anybody.

He handles himself so professionally and he’s also your friend when it’s time for that. He’s helped me with a few things here lately. Before the Talladega race, we actually sat in his bus watching tape of in-car camera stuff so that we could be at our best because there was so much pressure in that race. So, we have worked on that relationship for the benefit of both of us.”

Most of all, D’Hondt hopes that when the checkered flag flies in Homestead that there will be the biggest celebration as his retiring driver goes out as champion.

“Well, since we’re in the Chase now for the championship, I’m hoping my thoughts are going to be jubilation at the end of the Homestead race,” D’Hondt said.  “And then I’ll worry about getting sad on Monday. But if we don’t win, yeah, I’m probably going to cry at some point.

“Regardless of what happens at the end of this season with Jeff, I can honestly say that these have truly been the best four years of my life.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

With Gordon Stepping Away Bickford’s Journey Also Ending

As @JeffGordonWeb stood next to the grandfather clock in Martinsville’s Victory Lane with his opportunity to race for the Sprint Cup championship secured, his wife Ingrid and two children Leo and Ella joined him in the celebration.

But there is one family member who has been on this journey with Jeff since childhood, his step-dad John Bickford. And for Bickford, it has indeed been the journey of a lifetime, which started many years ago born in the roots of his own passion for racing.

“I’m so old, I don’t even remember how my interest in racing started,” Bickford said with a laugh. “But I can’t remember really when I wasn’t interested in racing. I think I was probably eight or nine or ten years old in California when I got interested. We used to race boxes with skate wheels on it. I made my own go kart out of wood and put some wheels on it and ran it downhill.”

“The first chance I had to be around a race car was when I had an opportunity to weld something on someone’s car. I was like fourteen and I knew how to weld because of my grandfather, who owned a construction company,” Bickford continued. “He let me practice welding and so I welded something for a guy on his race car and then I hung around.

“I became ‘the welding guy’, so whenever someone needed something welded, I was the guy. I was the guy who worked on cars. It was a natural thing and I became more and more passionate and probably had a small aptitude for it. So, I just kind of worked my way up.”

Bickford’s love of racing was solidified when he met Gordon’s mother Carol in 1972.

“I met Carol at work and she had this little newborn guy. We became friends and in 1973 we got married,” he recalled. “Her son was little so he wasn’t going to be an NBA basketball player plus I wasn’t much of a dad coach.

“So, we went to races and went camping and off-roading. We did all of those exciting things and he started bicycling when he was five and mom didn’t like that. So, there was an opportunity to build him a little car. So, that’s how we got going.”

For Bickford and Gordon racing that first little car led to more and more interest in the racing journey, as well as trying to improve and move up each and every week.

“We heard about another kid who was driving at fourteen and Jeff was thirteen at the time, so we thought we could do that,” Bickford said. “We did this sprint car thing, which looking back was somewhat insane, but it was a demonstration of the skills that he had.

“And Jeff ran with the bigger kids and the very best that was out there. He had a lot of skills then and it was one of those things that I probably knew that he could keep advancing.”

At the time, Bickford was designing vehicles for individuals with spinal cord injuries. In fact, he designed the very first vehicle ever driven by a quadriplegic. As for his focus at home, one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the family’s racing journey was the expense and the money needed to advance in the sport.

We’re not wealthy at all and it takes a lot of money to field cars. At the grassroots level, there was no sponsorship so you built your car and you fielded it,” Bickford said. “In the 1980’s there wasn’t big shops that built cars that you could call up and order. You built the car. So, one of the advantages that Jeff had was that was my skill set.

“I had the ability to coordinate what was available in the industry and built the rest of it. We actually built a company around it where we made race car parts. So, we made parts for the handicapped industry and we also made race parts using the same equipment. And when we ran short of money, we sold the handicapped business and took that money to advance Jeff’s career.”

Bickford was able to buy a couple more years in Indiana and get Gordon in front of more people. The thought was for him to become an IndyCar driver, but it didn’t work out.

“We got there a few years late with his age and the motorsport world was changing at that time where drivers were playing a large role in establishing the funding to keep the cars running,” Bickford said. “Most of the beginner guys were bringing money and we didn’t have any to bring. So, stock car racing was still hiring talent and Jeff was able to get a couple shots at that. And he got hired on his talent.”

One of the most important aspects of the journey was something that Bickford hopes that he has imparted to the four-time champion. That of the positive mental attitude needed to win.

“I think racing is a roller coaster thing for the drivers but I don’t think I’ve had any downs. Certainly I’ve had disappointments and you get frustrated when something doesn’t go right,” Bickford said. “But for me, people will tell you I’m the ultimate positive guy. I’m the ultimate motivator and I tend to find the positive in every situation. I think when you look at Jeff, he also gets over his disappointments pretty fast.

“When he leaves the track on Sundays and if he didn’t win, or if there was an issue, or even if there was a confrontation with another driver, he goes home, takes a shower, turns on the TV and he’s over it. He’s thinking about next week and the opportunity that comes next. I think a little bit of that is how we’ve lived our lives.”

As Gordon focuses on winning his fifth championship in his retirement year, Bickford is also reflecting on what his next step in his journey of life will be.

“I truthfully don’t know what I’ll be doing next,” Bickford said. “The plan for me right now is to stop working for Jeff at the end of the year.

“Jeff has his Fox deal and his Axalta program and Pepsi and Chevy and Hendrick Motorsports. So, there really is no need for me anymore. He’s got a team of people that work for him that are young and enthusiastic and leading edge on technology. He doesn’t need an old dinosaur like me.”

Whatever the future holds, Bickford is not quite sure how he himself will feel when Gordon takes the checkered flag and ends his Hall of Fame career in just a few weeks.

“I certainly hope Jeff takes that checkered flag in first place!” he said. “I’ve never done this. It’s been 39 years of continuous focus on this racing. So, I don’t know how I’ll feel. I guess I’m hoping for a bit of a sense of completion.

“Our daughter graduated from college and I felt a sense of completion. She’s moved back home a couple times so I realize quickly that there is no actual completion in the life of a parent. Once they are your child, they are always your child and they never go away. They’re with you forever. You say goodbye to them but hopefully they never say goodbye to you.”

While Bickford doesn’t know how he’ll feel in Homestead, he does know everything that has led to that moment has been a journey.

“I know when the kids moved away, it was just Carol and I and the dog and we looked at each other wondering what we should do now. Should we have a fight? That was too much energy,” he said. “Should we kick the dog? No, we love the dog so why would we do that.

“So, we asked each other what we wanted to do and we still don’t know. And then the next thing you know, the phone rings and someone is asking for your advice on a problem. And another phone call comes and pretty soon the opportunities come. So, we will see where the journey takes us next. I would say check in with me in March and ask me what’s going on.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
Commentary

The Top-10 Weirdest NASCAR Moments of 2015

As NASCAR celebrates Halloween weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it is the perfect time to reflect on some of the weirder moments in the sport to date. Here are the top-10 weirdest happenings so far, with more undoubtedly to come.

10: The 2015 season got off to an admittedly weird start with both Busch brothers sitting out the biggest race of the year, the Daytona 500.

The elder Busch, @KurtBusch, was out of his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet after being suspended indefinitely by the sanctioning body after a family court judge in Delaware ruled that there was a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ that the driver ‘committed an act of domestic violence’ against Patricia Driscoll, Busch’s girlfriend at that time.

Regan Smith was tapped to replace Busch in the Great American Race and finished 16th.

Younger brother @KyleBusch was also out of the Daytona 500 but for very different reasons. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffering a hard crash in the season opening XFINITY race, which resulted in a compound fracture of the right lower leg and a left mid-foot fracture.

Matt Crafton substituted for the ailing Busch brother in the Daytona 500 and finished 18th.

In spite of both of their absences from the early part of the season, both drivers have eerily managed to bounce back to compete this year in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

9:  There must have been something very strange in the water nine months ago with the plethora of NASCAR babies that have appeared on pit road. The newbies include Brexton Busch, Cash Bowyer, Owen Larson, Scarlett Keselowski, and Tanner Kahne just to name a few.

8:  There have been a number of racers injured or taken ill this season, from Kyle Busch to Brian Vickers to Denny Hamlin most recently, however, one of the weirdest illnesses to strike was a fainting spell for Kyle Larson.

In fact, at the last race at Martinsville Speedway, @KyleLarsonRacin fell ill at an autograph session and was rushed to the hospital. The 2014 Rookie of the Year was evaluated at the hospital and it was determined that dehydration led to his fainting spell.

Regan Smith was again appointed the relief driver and again weirdly finished 16th in his substitute role, the same finishing spot that he had finished in relief of Kurt Busch at the Daytona 500.

7: The seventh weird occurrence in the season to date occurred at Pocono Raceway where three drivers had hard crashes into the pit wall that were eerily similar.

Ray Black Jr. suffered the first hit into pit wall during the Pocono Mountains 125 NASCAR Camping World Truck race. Jeb Burton then suffered the same fate when his race car plowed into the pit wall in Saturday’s final practice session.

The worst and almost identical crash into the pit wall was incurred by Kasey Kahne in the Windows 10 400 Cup race when his No. 5 Aquafina Chevrolet hit so hard that pit crew members went flying and the pit wall was so heavily damaged that the race had to be red flagged for almost 15 minutes for repairs.

@kaseykahne finished dead last in the race in the 43rd position, undoubtedly impacting his future inability to participate in the Chase.

6: Various types of critters created some very weird scenes at several different tracks this season. At Pocono Raceway, there was a weird sighting of what some called a squirrel, others called a cat, and still others deemed it a fox.

There was also a bunny at Bristol that stopped the Truck Series practice and a baby duck at Dover International Speedway that was indeed tough to corral before action could resume.

5: The fifth weirdest happening of the season to date occurred at the Richmond race in September. Racer Michael McDowell led the field in prayer to start the race and then strangely hit the safety vehicle while under caution.

@Mc_Driver was circling the track with the field under caution on Lap 288 when he slammed into the rear end of the safety truck after telling his team that he never saw the vehicle. McDowell went from prayer captain to troublemaker, having to take his own trip to the NASCAR hauler after the race.

Thankfully, there were no injuries and no inferno a la Juan Pablo Montoya when he hit the jet dryer at Daytona in the 2012 Daytona 500.

4: One of the most recent weird occurrences occurred when Austin Dillon and his girlfriend were almost taken out by pre-race pyrotechnics gone wild. A piece of fireworks misfired during opening ceremonies for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and came down right next to @austindillon3, burning his backside.

The No. 33 Richard Childress Racing driver soldiered on to win the race from the pole, however, showed off his burnt driver’s suit bottom in the media center after the race.

“I was praying with my girlfriend and I think it was a sign from God,” Dillon said after the race. “He said, ‘you’re getting ready to have a good night or something.’ Get your butt in gear.”

3: Many fans would no doubt say this has been one of the weirdest Chase runs to date as well, particularly with six-time champion Jimmie Johnson eliminated on the very first round of competition.

And on the flip side, not many had predicted that Joey Logano would win three races in a row and now sit on the pole for the Martinsville race, poised to potentially make history with four consecutive trips to Victory Lane.

2: With a track built on an ancient burial ground, there is no doubt that weird things do just happen at Talladega. Both races this season have oozed strangeness, with the ‘Big One’ occurring early at the first Talladega race.

Sixteen cars were involved in a wreck which occurred on Lap 47 when Trevor Bayne lost control, taking out Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, David Ragan, Danica Patrick and Kasey Kahne to name a few.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. went on to win the Geico 500, his first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in 20 races.

Strangely enough the fall and most recent Talladega race also involved @Tbayne6, who was crashed by Kevin Harvick, sparking the controversial ending to the CampingWorld.com 500. That race featured an aborted attempt at a green-white-checkered finish and then the wreck involving Harvick and Bayne.

Earnhardt Junior finished in second, however, was officially eliminated from the Chase as were Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman.

1: The weirdest moment in the season has no doubt been the transformation of Tony to Tanya. Thanks to a tweet from Stewart-Haas Racing’s crew chief Tony Gibson that has gone viral, there was a ‘new’ driver apparently practicing in the No. 14 machine at Martinsville Speedway, with the name above the door magically transforming from Smoke to Tanya.

Just take a look at what drivers may be seeing in their rear view mirror on Sunday when the Goody’s 500 takes the green flag.

Happy Halloween!

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, it’s owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
Editorial

Australian NASCAR Fan on His Own Chase Quest

While NASCAR fans are known for their passion, Ian Cameron has taken his devotion to a whole new level. The Australian motorsports fanatic is on a Chase quest of his own, traveling from down under to the United States to take in every one of the last 10 races of the season.

“I’ve always had an interest in motorsports, V8 Super Cars in Australia, Formula 1, motor bikes,” Cameron told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s so happens that I’m on my own at the moment. I’ve got three grown up children that have gone their own ways.

“I followed all the NASCAR races on the network that brings them into Australia last year. But those last ten races were something else. They were all really trying to win each race. So, I thought I needed to do something about this and I decided to chase the last ten races this year.”

While Cameron is traveling alone, he had help in planning his travels, thanks to assistance from one of his children.

“Last March, I got with my daughter,” Cameron said. “She’s been to the States twice last year. She’s into speech therapy so she came to the U.S. for a four week holiday and a week in Orlando for a conference. She should have been a travel agent, this girl. We were trying to tie up loose ends and I got over here ten days before Chicagoland. Then I’ve been on the Chase hunt ever since.”

So as Cameron crosses the globe on his Chase quest, does he have a dog in this proverbial fight?

“I like the two gentlemen, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” Cameron said. “But I do like Kevin Harvick because he is a driver and he is having a good run at it. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin to name a few are also good.

“But Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., I’m glad that they are still in the Chase. Dale better get moving so he can be around for the next set. He’s on the border line so he has to start doing something a little bit better. The type of guys I like are the ones who run hard to win.”

And while the 68-year-old, ‘half-way retired’ Aussie has enjoyed the three Chase races to date, he also is doing a little exploring in-between his track time.

“I’ve got to fill my time in-between so my daughter’s got me going places that I wanted to go to like around Oak Park in Chicago. That was fascinating,” Cameron said. “I also went to Pittsburgh to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and Falling Waters. I spent a day or two in Boston before New Hampshire. Then we got rained on for four days.

“I flew out of Boston for Washington and got rained on there. It was so miserable but I went to the Smithsonian, which was great. I caught the train out of Washington yesterday and today I’ve gone to some accommodation in New York City. The rats were running (last night), in the walls and everything. I’m using a lot of Air B&Bs. Hopefully I can wake my daughter out of bed so she can fix these travel problems.”

Cameron has indeed been having the time of his life but it hasn’t all been rosy. In fact, he has had major issues with the bus company with whom he booked his travels to and from the races.

“Some of it, we thought we had it all pinned down right to the dot on the ‘i’ and the cross on the ‘t’, but things have been going a little bit awry, especially with the travel bus to the circuit,” Cameron said. “They keep cancelling out my bus. I’m trying to just chase the races and my bus company that was supposed to take me to all ten of them has quit on me for three of the four times.

“Charlotte and Kansas City are looking like they are going down the tubes as well. So, I have to find another bus company to complete this Chase. I’m hoping that someone else there can help me. I need to know what bus companies as I get to each city that can take me to the races. The other bus company, they already canceled out Charlotte.”

Cameron would appreciate those who can help spread the word about which coach lines are moving so he can pick up a ride.

“I don’t mind paying for it. I just want to find a reliable company to take me to and from the race track,” he said. “In fact, if anyone can lend me a hand, they can email me at my American email address licameron@icloud.com.”

In spite of his travel woes, Cameron cannot wait to get on with the chase, both his and NASCAR’s.

“I’m looking forward to seeing people in all of these towns,” Cameron said. “I’m really looking forward to the night race at Charlotte. Kansas City looks like an interesting place. I know that Talladega, Alabama has to be one I cannot miss.

“Then you go to Martinsville and it’s a little, wild track. Then you go to Texas and it’s a big superspeedway. Miami should be great and then afterwards I’m going to Key West. I’m looking forward to putting my foot in the Atlantic and then putting my foot in the Pacific where I fly out of Santa Monica.”

And just like one of his favorite drivers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Cameron says that he is never alone.

“There are other Australians out there chasing NASCAR at the moment,” Cameron said. “I know there are. But I just wanted to go out on my own to see if I could handle it. We just have to continue to figure out how to do it.”

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
Editorial

Adaptive Driving Experience on Unique Mission for Vets

While many enjoy the driving or ride-along experiences offered at NASCAR tracks all over the country, there are those who have served their country and are unable to get into a racecar, let alone drive it because of their disability.

Adaptive Driving Experience, a nonprofit organization based out of New Jersey, is on a mission to change that. They are in the process of raising funds for a brand new adapted car that will allow wounded military, police and fire veterans to get behind the wheel and on track for the thrill of a lifetime.

Adaptive Driving Experience, previously known as Accessible Racing, is celebrating their name change and rebranding with the building of an entirely new racecar that will be adapted for any veteran with any type of physical challenge.

“Since the beginning of the year we decided to shake things up a bit and restructured our Board of Directors,” Danny Chrissanthis, Board Member and Director, said. “I stepped in in a leadership role. And with the name change, we decided that a new car was in order.

“We were able to find a car, which was a challenge in and of itself. We ran into Brad Keselowski at PRI in December and we discussed some options. He put me in touch with his brother Brian, who had a chassis that he was willing to part with. It was a Gen-6 Toyota Camry COT chassis that he ran the Daytona 500 with in 2013. He had that car built as a show car, with a Sprint Cup body but that deal fell through. We made an arrangement to purchase that chassis, so all it needs is an engine and a transmission and a few other goodies. It was exactly what we were looking for. Brian gave us an excellent deal so I like to give him as much credit as I can for doing that.”

After overcoming the first hurdle of locating a vehicle that could be modified, the next hurdle of raising the dollars needed to adapt the car had to be met.

“We went down to Mooresville and picked the chassis up in June,” Chrissanthis said. “And we have since held a fundraiser, an on-line crowd fundraising effort. We have several manufacturers stepping up and donating parts to the car. That is where we are at right now.

“The CrowdRise fundraising effort has a goal of $15,000. That gets us a motor, transmission and some of the finishing touches. It also gets the car ready to go somewhere. It doesn’t pay off all the bills but it is realistic.”

While the major focus is on raising the funds to get the car in order, Chrissanthis and the Board have bigger dreams in mind for the future.

“Right now, besides making the car run and getting it adapted, we need to make the car look pretty. We want to attract potential marketers and corporate partners. This is going to be a beautiful car. One of our goals besides doing on track events is displaying the car representing different companies so we can grow the awareness and collect funds to expand.”

One of the major goals of Adaptive Driving Experience is to enable the driver to have a racecar experience, behind the wheel and in race conditions. To do that, the car itself must be adapted in several different ways.

“Our car has a door, which is different from a racecar that you see on track in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series,” Chrissanthis said. “The driver’s seat swivels around ninety degrees. That allows for someone in a wheelchair to transfer into the driver’s seat.

“We have special controls that can be changed very quickly to accommodate a variety of disabilities. As long as they can steer the car with one hand, they can drive. We’ve had paraplegics and quadriplegics in the car. Once they get strapped in, on the right side of the car we actually have a race car driver. He has his own steering wheel and his own gas and brake. So, he can actually control the vehicle. Once the car goes out on the track, our driver is taking them out there. They’ve done some pre-driving training and then they get to take over the wheel.

“They drive the car and they get to do ten or fifteen laps. When they’ve decided they have had enough, they let go of the wheel and our driver takes over and gives them hot laps. So, they actually get two experiences in one, which no one else offers.

“I don’t know of anyone else on the planet that offers this type of experience. I know that in the past there have been cars set up for ride-alongs for disabled veterans to get in the passenger side. We know that there have been many cars modified for drivers to go out and race. I don’t know anyone offering what we’re offering and at no cost to the drivers. We will raise money and have multiple programs available so that not only our veterans that have been injured in the line of duty can participate but also those in the police and fire service.”

For Chrissanthis and the other Board members of Adaptive Driving Experience, this effort is a labor of love, from dedication to helping veterans to sharing the love of racing.

“My background is that I’m a project manager and work for one of the largest telecommunications construction companies in the country,” Chrissanthis said. “My passion is definitely being involved in the behind the scenes action of NASCAR.

“I love everything it takes to put on a race and I love the people of racing. When I first me the individual that started this organization, I thought this was what I was destined for. It was involving a race car but also helping veterans with disabilities accomplish something that was not being offered anywhere else.

“The idea of it alone really excited me. The first time I went to do an event with them, I was hands on right away. And I was able to see the reactions of the drivers as they got out of the car. The way they talked about it and the excitement is just unbeatable. The comradery that takes place between the drivers is amazing. The way they cheered each other on was amazing and it was the most fun we ever had in a race car.”

In addition to Chrissanthis’ passion, the rest of the Board also brings their own sets of special skills to the organization.

“The gentleman who is the President of our organization, Peter Ruprecht, owns a company called Drive-Master,” Chrissanthis said. “They are a family-owned business based out of New Jersey and they have developed, patented and installed adaptive equipment for vehicles. They also have a nationwide and worldwide network. Peter built our first car and he has adapted race cars for drivers for their use. And he will build our next car.”

While the funds are being raised and the car is being built, Chrissanthis is searching for support from any veterans group or from those who just love racing. And whether funding or raising awareness, Chrissanthis welcomes any and all involvement.

“The way to get involved is to stay connected to us and we will post everything that is happening.  We want to get an email list together,” Chrissanthis said. “The way that many of the events will take place will be through particular groups, such as veteran organizations to anybody who wants to sign up.

“All of our fundraising is through the website and Facebook. There are huge ‘donate now’ buttons on everything. Any amount is not too small and it certainly helps. If they can’t afford to donate, they can like us on Facebook and help spread the word.”

With the number of veterans with disabilities growing, Chrissanthis feels strongly that the time is now to get the car adapted and on the race track.

“The importance of this grows every day,” Chrissanthis said. “The more people I talk to, the more excited they get and the more excited I get. Just being able to help people is exciting.

“I love being around race cars and I love being able to help anyone I can. I don’t have a Bill Gates bank account so I can’t give out money. But what I can do is get this organization off the ground and get as many people as possible to drive the car.”

For more information about Adaptive Driving Experience, you can visit their website or Facebook page.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Busch May Be Best Chase Hope for Stewart-Haas Racing

With @KevinHarvick‘s 42nd place finish at Chicagoland Speedway and his present occupancy at the bottom of the Chase Challenger board, his teammate @KurtBusch may now be Stewart-Haas Racing’s best hope for the Sprint Cup championship.

The first race in the Challenger round of the Chase was indeed not easy for either @StewartHaasRcng racer. In fact, both Harvick and Busch had to slog their way through adversity to the checkered flag in the myAFibRisk.com 400.

Harvick no doubt got the worst end of it with his tire rub and then crash, however, Busch too had a tire issue, with a right rear down early in the race.  The No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet was able to battle back for a third place finish, while the No. 4 Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet figuratively crashed and burned, particularly as far as the Chase standings.

And while Harvick was busy showing his displeasure with Jimmie Johnson in the motor coach lot after the race, Busch advanced himself two positions up into the fifth spot in the Chase race.

“This Chevy was fast,” Busch said post-race.  “It was fast enough to win.  When the caution came out there at the end, I thought we had the right strategy but we didn’t. But this was a point’s day.”

With just one race in the first round of championship contention in the books, it cannot be surmised that will predict what will follow in the Chase. But history has shown that one bad race can be the difference between advancing to the next round to even have that ultimate chance at NASCAR’s ultimate prize, the Sprint Cup.

Even Harvick admitted after the miserable Chicagoland finish that he will have to win either Loudon or Dover to have a chance of staying alive in the competition. Busch on the other hand just has to keep a steady hand to get through the next two races to the Contender round.

Looking ahead to the next race, the Sylvania 300, @NHMS, Busch might just have a bit of an advantage over his teammate there as well. Busch has three wins at Loudon to Harvick’s one.

And although Harvick has a little better driver rating of 94.6 at NHMS, Busch is not far behind. Busch is in fact just four spots behind Harvick in driver rating rankings at 88.8.

Busch has experienced good fortune at NHMS as he won the first race in the first-year Chase there in 2004. Busch went on to snag six top-five and nine-top-10 finishes during that year’s ten-race Chase.

Keep in mind that Busch also scored his 12th top-10 at New Hampshire this past July.

“New Hampshire is a track that has been pretty good to me since I started racing in the top series of this sport,” Busch said. “I raced there for the first time in the Truck Series and won that race.

“Then it’s a track where I have three wins in the Cup cars and, when you’re able to go to a track where you’ve had that kind of success, it just gives you that confidence. Because of the wins and everything, it’s a place we go to where I feel like I especially know what it takes from the car and the driver to be successful.”

Another reason that Busch may be Stewart-Haas Racing’s best hope for the Chase is his quiet consistency. While teammate Harvick has also been solid, he has had some struggles on pit road and on track these last few months, while Busch’s group has continued to get the job done.

In fact, Busch’s average finish of 10.6 this season is the best of his entire Sprint Cup career for the past sixteen years.

In addition to consistency, Busch may be SHR’s best Chase hope because of his strategy and mindset going into the next nine races ahead on the schedule.

“This is a long journey through these next ten weeks,” Busch said. “We weren’t given a hall pass now, through Loudon and through Dover. We’ve just got to work hard as a team and saddle-up.

“The strategy is to not have any big moments in the first three races. With 16 guys trying to get to the next 12, just the law of averages is going to be where you’ve got more guys, more chances for things to happen. We just need to do our job and stay out of trouble.”

And while the key may be the ability to stay out of trouble on the track, Busch also has battled out of trouble off the track this season. After being suspended for several races due to domestic violence charges, Busch had to work his way through NASCAR’s reinstatement process to get back on track.

He was successful enough in that process that he was also deemed eligible to even race in the Chase competition this year. Busch’s off-track house got in further order when he announced his engagement last month to Ashley Van Metre.

For all these reasons, from good stats on tracks ahead to fighting through adversity, to a new steadiness in his life both on and off the track, Busch may just be the one to watch in the Chase for the Stewart-Haas Racing camp.

Sure teammate Harvick can and may pull out a win in the next two races and continue on in his quest for a back to back championship.

But keep an eye on Busch as his steady, determined strategy may just be an even bigger story in the next two races and beyond.

EMAIL MARY JO AT mj.buchanan@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW MARY JO ON TWITTER: @maryjobuchanan