There is no name dropping in NASCAR.
Sure, family ties are prevalent in Sprint Cup circles. But reaching the NASCAR upper echelon did not necessarily come because of sibling or fatherly help in the Earnhardt, Petty, Waltrip, Allison, Elliott, Jarrett, Woods, Busch or even the France clans.
James Bickford, who turned 16 last Sunday, is not dropping the name Jeff Gordon any time soon this season. Gordon is the four-time NASCAR champion’s cousin.
“He helps me a bunch,” Bickford said. “But I kind of do my own thing. I have to do what I have to do to get where I’m at.”
The sophomore at Justin-Siena High School in Napa is only a few steps from joining his cousin atop NASCAR’s elite. Bickford will be making his second career start in the K&N Pro West series on Saturday night in the NAPA Auto Parts 150 on Irwindale Speedway’s half-mile oval.
“When he comes to Sonoma (for the late June Cup race) he teaches me things,” Bickford said of Gordon. “I tell him what’s been happening with the season and he tells me how to correct it. It is a lot of help and it’s fun to hang out in his hauler. He couldn’t be more generous.”
James’ father, Tom, is John Bickford’s brother. Gordon, 42, was reared by stepfather John Bickford from the time he was a Vallejo toddler.
“It inspired him for sure,” Tom Bickford said of the relationship between his son and Gordon. “He wanted to be a race car driver when he was 3 because of Jeff. When he turned 5, on his birthday he said, ‘Where’s the quarter midget you promised me?’ He was in my ear.”
James Bickford may only still have a driver’s license permit, but he has about 200 victories and has won several series championships racing quarter midget, Bandoleros, Legends and Late Models. He won the All American Speedway Late Model series title last season, winning six races in the series and then won the season-ending Fall Classic.
Bob Bruncati, who mentors young drivers, plucked Bickford from the Roseville track and put him in the same seat that Derek Thorn used to win the West series title last season.
“He’s a very talented driver,” Bruncati said. “This series is a little harder but I think he will have the ability to do well after getting through his rookie year.”
Bickford finished 25th in his West debut at Phoenix last month, hitting the Turn 3 and 4 walls on the 34th lap.
“(Gordon) signed a hat for me and I signed a driver’s card and gave it right back to him,” Bickford recalled. “He didn’t warn me about...
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