This Thursday marks 20 years to the day when a bright new sponsor took a chance on a rookie driver with a newly formed Hendrick Motorsports team. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Jeff Gordon burst on the NASCAR Cup Series scene in a big way at the season-ending race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1992 with global Fortune 500 Company DuPont as a sponsor. The trademark DuPont oval adorned the hood of the famous rainbow-colored No. 24 car designed by renowned motorsports artist Sam Bass to depict the Automotive Finishes paint that DuPont set out to showcase through its sponsorship.
Four championships, 86 victories, over 250,000 customers who have been entertained by DuPont through one of the most prolific at-track hospitality programs in the history of the sport, and four DuPont primary paint schemes later, Gordon reflects on the success of the partnership.
"DuPont gave a young guy with a dream a shot - and I'll never forget that," said Gordon. "They have been a partner in so many more ways than just sponsoring our team. Over two decades, not only have they supported the business of racing at Hendrick Motorsports and my career, but we have built very strong relationships with all of the DuPont employees.
"After a few years into the sponsorship, I started to consider myself a DuPont employee - which is an honor. So I just want to thank all of my 'co-workers' for being my most loyal supporters for the last 20 years."
DuPont and Gordon shared growth, change, success and hard times over the years.
At a time when most of the stars of NASCAR had roots in the South with experience in stock car racing, and didn't succeed at the Cup Series level in their early 20's, Gordon was a bit of an anomaly when he first stepped foot in the Cup Series garage area. Having spent his pre-teen years in California, followed by most of his teen years in Indiana with a background in short track, open-wheel racing, Gordon was not considered a "good ol' boy" in the garage or by fans.
However, Gordon turned heads when he showed up at the season-opening Daytona 500 in February of 1993 when he won one of what was then called the Gatorade Twin-125-mile qualifying races at the famous 2.5-mile superspeedway. That year, Gordon went to win Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
But it wasn't until his sophomore season when he achieved his second career victory at the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that Gordon became a phenom and was launched into stardom.
Two wins in 1994 followed by seven wins and a championship in 1995, 10 wins and second in points to teammate Terry Labonte in 1996, 10 wins and a championship in 1997, and the "career year" of 1998 when he tied Richard Petty's modern era record of 13 wins in one season and clinched his third title made Gordon and the No. 24 DuPont team undoubtedly the team to beat week in and week out.
Gordon won his fourth title in 2001, and with 86 career wins, is currently third on NASCAR's all-time win list.
While Gordon has gone from a young kid with a mustache and a mullet, to one of NASCAR's all-time greatest drivers leading a life of philanthropy as a husband and father of two - at age 41 - he is still winning races and competing for championships.
DuPont has been bringing world-class science and engineering to the global marketplace in the form of innovative products, materials and services since 1802. Many of the company's products help keep drivers safe on the track; from their fire-resistant suits to the SAFER barriers at all raceways to unique, light weight plastic in the HANS device to the DuPont™ Kevlar® in seats and tires of the car.
DuPont and Jeff agree that hunger is a barrier to children around the world meeting their full potential. As a company they are constantly looking for new collaborations that help find solutions to global problems such as providing enough healthy food for people everywhere, decreasing dependence on fossil fuels, and protecting life and the environment.
In addition to the victories and great memories that DuPont and Gordon have shared, their partnership also has endured through tragic events such as 9-11, losing series superstar Dale Earnhardt, and the tragic plane crash which took the lives of 10 including Hendrick family members and employees, and DuPont's director of motorsports, Joe Jackson.
Gordon and DuPont are both success stories, both leaders in their industry and both have a two-decade-long story to tell about the longest currently running driver/sponsor/owner combination in all of NASCAR.
This weekend, the "DuPont 20 Years" celebration will include a special commemorative DuPont paint scheme, a customer event on Saturday night and again in hospitality on race morning. They will celebrate, reflect on the years and all wins at every track on the schedule with the exception of one.
Gordon will take to the Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday to change that and put an exclamation point on his 20-year career with DuPont.
Show your support for Jeff Gordon by joining the official fan club, the Jeff Gordon Network, where you'll get a JGN t-shirt, collectable pin, Drive to End Hunger wristband and other items along with exclusive access to promotions, events and the message boards. Sign up here -> https://signup.jeffgordon.com/!
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To support the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation, visit www.jeffgordonchildrensfoundation.org.
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