During NASCAR’s popularity surge in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there came a glut of books about the sport and its people.
Histories, compilations and biographies … you name it and it was available. To be honest most of them were good. And some were not.
Over recent years there has been a decline in books about NASCAR and I think that is a reflection of the sports slow but steady demise after the popularity explosion.
The word is that NASCAR books no longer sell. I’ve reached the conclusion that the only way to change that, even minutely, is for a new publication to be fresh, informative and, most important, entertaining.
And a biography needs to be something other than a catalog of the subject’s racing endeavors; his on-track efforts week after week.
I think we now have just that.
If “Jeff Gordon, His Drive & Destiny” were just another routine biography that glorified the Hendrick Motorsports driver – not hard to do, by the way – I have no doubt that stores would place it on their bargain racks in short order.
But it’s not. Admittedly, I have been around a long time and my shelves are loaded with NASCAR books – yours may be, also.
So for a biography to impress me, even slightly, it has to tell me things about the subject that most of us never knew. It has to be personal and honest. If I want to learn about his racing achievements, I’ll look them up on the Internet. No need to read a word.
Yes, Gordon’s book does indeed recount his on-track victories, frustrations and championships. But, thankfully, there is much more – it’s personal and, in some cases, not so flattering.
— As a kid, Gordon may have been a baby-faced racing protégé, but he was all boy, which means he was by no means perfect.
He would slip out of his house at night and hookup with a friend who owned a car but did not have a driver’s license. They would go from Vallejo to San Francisco and spend the early hours of the morning skateboarding in parking lots.
His parents finally busted Gordon. They threatened to send him to military school. He cried his way out of it.
While traveling across the country amid a storm and freezing temperatures with stepfather, mentor and business manager John Bickford, a stop was made at Gilley’s in Houston.
Gordon immediately took to the available video games and started playing five-card draw poker. He kept hitting Bickford up for quarters.
Bickford was puzzled. Then he learned that the poker game had an image of a pretty girl. Every time Gordon won a hand her top would come off.
Gordon, just a kid, thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.
— Gordon was already a superstar in Sprint Cars and on ESPN’s “Thursday Night Thunder” series when he ventured into stock cars at the Buck Baker Driving School in Rockingham. ESPN effectively picked up the $4,000 tab by televising the happenings.
Gordon excelled on the track. That was all it took. He went back to the motel and breathlessly told his mother Carol that he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life. It was NASCAR and not the Indy 500. Then he dragged her to the speedway to meet everyone.
— History has duly recorded Ray Evernham’s influence, personally and competitively, on Gordon and his career.
To acquire Evernham’s services for Gordon, who was with Bill Davis’ Busch Series team in 1992, Ford agreed to pay a reluctant Davis half of Evernham’s $50,000 salary.
Years later, after Gordon and Evernham enjoyed much success with team owner Rick Hendrick, Evernham was lured by Dodge to form his own team.
Evernham wanted to do his own thing; to advance his career. However, he was reluctant to do so because of his affinity with Gordon and Hendrick.
But when he was not allowed to contribute his ideas for the team’s championship ring – Gordon had nothing to do with it – his mind was made up. He was gone.
— After his first victory in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis an exhausted Gordon finally returned to his hotel room. He was famished.
He called Pizza Hut and ordered a pepperoni and pineapple pizza (!) for delivery. He was told that heavy traffic around the speedway would delay the process for hours.
Gordon played the celebrity card. He told Pizza Hut who he was and what he had done. His order was filled in 30 minutes. He handed out a $100 tip.
There is much more – such as Gordon’s bitter and expensive divorce from first wife Brooke (more interested in herself than anything else), his escapades with fellow Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson in New York (aspiring actresses, models), and his decision to retire, which was made a full year before it happened (One day while he was shaving, daughter Ella walked in and asked, “Papa, why are you crying?”).
There’s plenty to read about Gordon’s career and his thoughts about the many things and people that were part of it.
But hopefully you have gotten an idea of what makes the routine something pleasantly and surprisingly different.
“Jeff Gordon, His Dream, Drive & Destiny,” has earned its place on my bookshelf. And in my opinion it belongs on yours, for sure.
EDITORS NOTE: The Gordon book is available at http://store.jeffgordon.com.
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