Our series of NASCAR driver interviews continues this week with four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the Sprint Cup Series points leader heading into this weekend's regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
Q: When you're on a long green-flag run and not racing around anyone, what do you think about?
A: What we need to do to the car to make it go faster. (Laughs) Most of the time, I'm always thinking about, "Is somebody else coming? Is somebody else trying a line that's working better than the one I'm trying?" I might say something to the spotter. Or I might be thinking about what the car is doing and relaying that information back to the team, because it's constantly changing.
But rarely am I daydreaming.
Q: Fans often come up to you and want to discuss a moment or race from your career. Which one comes up the most?
A: I get a lot of people who say, "I've been following you from the beginning. I remember you in 1993 (his rookie season in Cup)." And I'm like, "Well, it started a long time before that!" (Laughs) But there are some fans who say, "I remember watching you drive a sprint car at Bloomington (Ind.) or Indianapolis Raceway Park." The ones who really remember the first moments or who have been there for a very long time talk about places in Ohio and Indiana where I was racing sprint cars at 14 or 15 years old.
Q: If someone paid you $5 million to design a new racetrack and gave you an unlimited budget, what kind of track would you build?
A: The one we're building in Canada (Canadian Motor Speedway in Fort Erie, Ontario). It is going to be around ¾-mile and have some similarities to Richmond. A little bit of progressive banking. I'd like to not put the tunnels in the corners if possible. Design the garage area where it flows right.
The biggest thing I would do, no matter what size track it is, is it's all about transitions. It's how you transition into the banking in the corners, how you transition from the banking to the straightaways, how banked the straightaways are and then the transition in and off the next corner. To me, the more focus you can put and the sooner you start the transitions, the more side-by-side racing you're going to see. I'd also put a lot of emphasis on the surface.
Where does the Canada project stand now?
It's a long process. It's just not easy to get a large facility like that. First you have to find the land, then you have to get all these permits and there's just a lot that goes into it.
For me, my interest is in the design of the track — making it driver-friendly and fan-friendly. But we have a big group of people who are working on all the other entertainment aspects of it as well, because you have to have multipurpose facilities these days. You can't just have a track that relies on a race. We don't know if we'll ever get a NASCAR Truck, Nationwide or Cup race. But things are still moving and progressing.
I love where it's at, too. I get a lot of folks from Canada who are big race fans and say, "We'd love to have a NASCAR-style oval in Canada." I think this is something that will make the Canadian fans proud and give them an opportunity to see a great racetrack. And it's also not far from the U.S., either.
Q: If you had a day off to do anything in the world you wanted — but you were not allowed to race — what would you do?
A: Just one day? One day makes it tough because the places I'd want to go take a long time to get there.
For the purposes of this question, you can magically appear in any of those places and don't have to worry about the travel.
I can just magically appear there? Oh, now we're talking! (Thinks for awhile) Probably somewhere in the south of France. I love the south of France. I'd say on a boat in the south of France or somewhere in the Mediterranean. That'd be awesome.
That sounds nice.
Yeah, it's not bad. (Laughs) And of course, I'd want to be there with my family.
Q: You get to have a lot of cool experiences away from racing through your job as a NASCAR driver. What's one that sticks out?
A: Probably some of the post-Oscars parties Ingrid (Vandebosch, his wife) and I got to go to. It's just a lot of really cool people in a relaxed environment and everybody is just hanging out and being themselves. And you realize while they are celebrities and famous people, they're also just real people who like to be part of something no different than the rest of us do. To be able to see them in that environment is something I'll never forget.
That must be pretty amazing to see.
It's pretty cool. One time we were at this party and Bradley Cooper was on the dance floor next to me and Ingrid. Of course, everybody is like, "Ahh, Bradley Cooper!"
So at one point, Bradley had to step over a piece of furniture to get to the dance floor. Well when he did, there was this girl who was dancing nearby with long hair and she was whipping her hair around, and her hair got wrapped around the button on his tuxedo jacket. (Laughs)
So she's sitting there like this (Gordon stands up to demonstrate, tilting his head as if it were stuck on something) and Bradley is standing there and they're trying to get the hair unwrapped. (Laughs while talking) And she's freaking out because she's embarrassed, but she's also so excited at the same time because it's Bradley Cooper!
Ingrid and I were watching this whole thing and were laughing so hard. But he was so cool about the way he handled it. It made me really respect him a lot.
Q: When you go home after a bad day at the track, do you vent to someone about it or just keep it to yourself?
A: I'm really good about letting things roll off my back. But I'll talk to Ingrid. Sometimes she has to vent to me because she's like, "Why are you not more upset about this?" So I tend to hold things inside.
It's funny how she and I work. If I hold it in, then she's venting and I sort of calm her down. If I vent, then she's like, "It's going to be OK, don't worry." So we work good like that.
Q: If you could point to another driver as a good example for your children in the garage, who would it be?
A: There are a lot of good guys in the garage area. But you know, Jimmie (Johnson) lives near us, he's a good dad, he's a great race car driver and I think he's very well-balanced. So I'd say probably Jimmie. He and I can relate. We both have two children, we both have won championships, we kind of understand their lifestyle and feel like they understand our lifestyle. And I've probably seen him more away from the track than anyone else.
I'd also put Casey Mears in there, too. They're both dads, good people and fun to be around. I think they're good parents.
Q: When you stand around with other drivers and tell old racing stories, what's one of your favorites to tell either about something that happened to yourself or someone else?
A: One of the things I'm just not good at is my memory. It's just not the way my brain works. But if you bring something up that engages it, I usually have a good story about something that relates to that.
A lot of times, it'll be Ray (Evernham) or Rick (Hendrick) or Jon (Edwards, Gordon's public relations representative) or my mom or dad. It's fun when I remember them and I'm with a group I'm comfortable enough to tell it to.
There's one story that comes to mind that's a great story, but I can't tell you that story. (Laughs) It was at a racetrack, but it wasn't on the racetrack. I wish I could tell it to you!
Q: What's a TV show you're really into right now?
A: I love Suits and House of Cards. Probably Suits is No. 1 right now. And I'm so mad, because my DirecTV in the (motorhome) had something go out and it didn't record the finale. So if you know anything about it, don't tell me!
I love the characters, I love the storylines. Between those shows and The Good Wife, those are the shows I enjoy the most.
Q: What's the last movie you saw — either at home or in the theater — and was it any good?
A: A few weeks ago — I guess at Watkins Glen — me and my nephew went to see Lucy, which is a sci-fi movie. It was...
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