2014 NASCAR Atlanta

By Mary Jo Buchanan - Speedway Media

As the tributes to Jeff Gordon continue to pour in, most recently from Darrell Waltrip’s pronouncement of Gordon as one of the ‘Greatest of All Time’ NASCAR drivers, some of the most poignant reactions have been from long-time Jeff Gordon fans.

And for them, the news that Gordon will step out of the car after this season is simply personal.

“I followed him casually since he came into the sport so I’ve always been a fan, but I turned rabid ten or so years ago,” Linda Caracciola said. “Honestly it was a combination of things ‘Jeff’ that hooked me. Obviously he’s an incredibly talented racecar driver, but when I started listening to him in pre and post-race interviews, he really impressed me.”

He’s a class act,” Caracciola continued. “Then add to all of that what he does off the track philanthropically, he’s the total package.”

“And he’s not hard on the eyes either!”

Caracciola learned of her favorite driver’s news on Twitter. At first she thought it might be a joke or a rumor, but then she was simply stunned.

“I just sat there for a few minutes trying to process it,” Caracciola said. “I knew the day was coming, but I honestly didn’t expect it yet. I thought for sure he would race two more years and throw in his fire suit after the 2016 season.”

“The realization that I would only have this season to watch my driver race made me incredibly sad.”

“Now that the reality of it has sunk in, I’m still really sad that this will be his last season,” Caracciola continued. “Jeff is my driver. It’s not like stick and ball sports where you have your team. Players on that team come and go, but that’s still your team.”

“NASCAR is a different animal. When your driver retires, you can’t just randomly pick another driver and decide to be a fan. It’s a feeling you have to have, and for me, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel as passionate about another driver. I feel like I’ll be transitioning from a Jeff Gordon fan to just a NASCAR fan. At least for now…”

Like Caracciola, Jack Lewis, a NASCAR and Jeff Gordon fan since the age of four, is also struggling with his driver’s decision to step away from the sport.

“In 1993, my father went to Pocono Raceway while I stayed home,” Lewis said. “Naturally, I told him “buy me something” from the track, and he chose a Jeff Gordon flag to purchase for me. His reasoning was because his souvenir trailer was the most colorful of them all!”

“I first heard about Jeff’s announcement via an alert on my smartphone,” Lewis continued. “I was shopping and came to a dead stop after I read it–in shock, initially. It was something I knew was only a matter of time before it happened, but still, when you read something like that, you can’t help but be a little shocked.”

While both Caracciola and Lewis were saddened and shocked by their driver’s decision to step out of the car, both are very thankful for the memories and for the great Gordon moments that they have been able to experience.

“I have two favorite moments,” Caracciola said. “One has to be the first time I was at a race that he won. It was the June Pocono race in 2011. I cried… I’d watched him win for years but it was an amazing feeling to be there to see it in person.”

“The other, of course, was the first time I met him. He was exactly as I expected him to be.”

“There’s so many Jeff Gordon moments as a fan,” Lewis said. “Some of the best are..."

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Jeff Gordon AARP 2015 Studio Shoot at CIA STUDIO in Mooresville, North Carolina on December 9, 2014. CIA Stock Photo Helmet