Hall-of-Fame Racer Jeff Gordon Talks Daytona 500 Before Piloting Its Broadcast
The NASCAR legend reflects on his career, current role in the sport and why he’s driven to philanthropy.
By Robert Ross - Robb Report
For pure racing excitement, watching the best NASCAR race, like enjoying the best bone-in rib eye, are hard-to-beat experiences: on par with—and rarely equaled by—all the F1 VIP passes and tasting-menu frippery on the planet.
The Daytona 500 — the Diamond Jim Brady cut of stock car racing—is the most important race in the NASCAR Cup Series, and has been run since 1959, the year Daytona International Speedway opened to become one of America’s premier circuits. The “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing,” as it’s also known, is a 500-mile, 200-lap, fender-to-fender love fest that see speeds well in excess of 200 mph. (The fastest recorded lap was set in 1987 by Bill Elliott, before restrictor plates were implemented, at 210+ mph). Over the years, drivers like Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt became household names for hundreds of millions of Americans. Among them, Jeff Gordon is the most well-known today.
The four-time NASCAR Cup Champion has claimed three Daytona 500 victories since 1994, and 93 first-place wins overall. Retired in 2015, Gordon is now in his fifth season as commentator with Fox NASCAR. Fox, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2020 as the official NASCAR channel, is known to fans and followers as the voice of the sport. And this year is Gordon’s first season as lead broadcaster.
Ahead of this Sunday’s 2020 Daytona 500, we spoke with Gordon about racing, up-and-coming drivers, his take on NASCAR and a philanthropic endeavor that proves life isn’t relegated to just the track.
What does it feel like, being one of the world’s winningest drivers and taking pole position in the broadcasting booth?
When I think back to my driving career, and FOX covering the sport, I definitely took for granted the effort that they put into bringing our sport to the fans. So now I have a greater appreciation for that.
As you got into broadcasting, what lessons did you take from Darrell Waltrip, himself a NASCAR legend and, with 19 years as the Fox NASCAR broadcaster, a seasoned pro behind the microphone?
Oh, I learned so much from DW. Of course, we raced together…had some great races and some not so great races. So, it was going to be very interesting when we went into the booth together. But you know, he took me under his wing. He was a great mentor, getting his perspective on not just the sport, but the entertainment side of broadcasting. And of course, nobody brings the kind of energy that DW did. I thought we complemented one another really well. What I focus on the most is how can I put myself into the driver’s seat—into the mind of the driver—and explain to the fans what the driver might be going through, what they’re thinking. Whether it’s drafting for the Daytona 500 or on a mile-and-a-half going over some of the bumps, or the car sliding around, or a road course.
Looking from on high, so to speak, how do you feel watching young drivers like Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR great Billy Elliot?
Well, for my first year in the broadcast booth, Chase was driving the 24 car taken over from me. It was hard to see anybody else driving that 24 car. But I...
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