JEFF GORDON, CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 PACE CAR DRIVER, met with members of the media today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and discussed driving the pace car, his thoughts on the future of NASCAR and many other topics. Partial transcript:
THOUGHTS ON DRIVING THE PACE CAR:
“It’s very cool and thanks to Chevy for giving me that opportunity and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Of course, I love the ZL1 version. I have my own, not the newer version, I am waiting to get this newer one, but one from a year ago and I absolutely love it. So, to get a chance to lead the field to green and to me this really means a lot to me because now that I’m not driving full-time to be able to come here lead the field here for the Indy 500 and then the Daytona 500 earlier this year and now the Brickyard 400. I had forgotten, I had completely forgotten because I filled in for (Dale Earnhardt) Junior last year this will be the first time that I’m not competing in the Brickyard 400 and the first time I’ve not… the only race that I have not been behind the wheel competing here at the Brickyard. So, you know that is sort of bitter sweet, but I can’t think of a better way to replace that than to be able to lead the guys and gal to the green here today in this amazing car.”
HAVE YOU PERFECTED THE ART OF PACE CAR DRIVING YET?
“Well, I hope so, it’s a little bit different leading an IndyCar field than a NASCAR field, which I found out in February in Daytona. But, I’ve got a great co-pilot, I’m sure Buster Auton will be in the right-hand seat like he was in Daytona and guide me along the way. That one was a little trickier because I was actually doing a live broadcast through my ear and talking to the guys up in the booth. Plus, I had Tony Stewart surprise me live on FOX also. Today I just get to focus on the job at hand and try not to mess it up. With NASCAR there is a little bit that goes into it as far as verifying pit road speed for a lot of these teams. Even though they have the technology to do it a lot themselves, they do like to verify it on race day behind the pace car to understand. I think it’s 55, I don’t remember, but I will get to that speed and Buster and I will go through that a little bit later and get the details. It’s pretty important for me to get as accurate to that number and hold it there.”
IT SEEMS LIKE WE CAN’T DRAG YOU AWAY FROM THIS TRACK. WHAT DOES BEING BACK AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY MEAN TO YOU?
“It’s not you, it’s me. I love this place. I’ve loved it since the day I passed by it when I was a quarter midget racer hoping one day to race at this amazing speedway and then moving here racing sprint cars and midgets. Coming in and out of here for Valvoline and fuel and different things that I did to support our race team that we had, my stepfather’s race team, and then to get to race here in that inaugural Brickyard 400 and win it and four other times after that. This place means the world to me. It means a lot to Motorsports and so, I would never want to miss it. I’m just thankful I get to actually be an active part of it thanks to Chevy and driving this ZL1 Camaro.”
YOU RAN THE ROLEX 24 EARLIER THIS YEAR, IS THERE A RACE THAT IS NEXT ON YOUR BUCKET LIST? DO YOU THINK YOU WILL EVER HOP IN AN XFINITY CAR?
“No, plans to hop into anything NASCAR related, although watching that dirt race at Eldora the other day and those trucks slide around there looks like a lot of fun and Tony (Stewart) keeps egging me on to maybe do something like that, but no plans. The key to me, what led to Daytona, I did that race in either ’06 or ’07 with Wayne Taylor Racing and it went well. We were on the podium, but I realize it takes a lot of commitment and time to get acquainted with the car and the team and to put my best effort forward I needed to be able to do that. And that opportunity presented itself by being retired. I tested there in December, I drove the car in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the new Cadillac and that car especially it’s very technical, there are a lot of things that I’m not used to driving in NASCAR that I needed to get acquainted with in that car. Doing driver changes, so I was able to spend the proper amount of time preparing for that. If I could do that with another race, I would love to do it. It was a lot of fun, it was a great opportunity, and we won. So, if that presented itself then I would certainly consider it.”
(Laughs) “I don’t think the Indy 500 is one that I’m going to be able to do. Maybe more of an endurance race is more my style.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK OF YESTERDAY’S XFINITY RACE?
“I thought it was a really nice step forward. I’m excited about that. I was excited when I saw some of the aerodynamic things that they were doing and the amount of power that they were taking out. I think… you know flat tracks are a big challenge for NASCAR. You take a bigger, heavier, stock car like we have, as technically as advanced as they are they still are a car that is more suited for a high-banked oval. So, a flat track like this with these long fast straightaways I think it’s important if they are going to have passing and overtaking that they need to figure out a new package and I thought that was a nice step. A little more spread-out overall than I was hoping for, but the fact that you could get behind, draft back up if you were working together with two cars, of course, I was a big fan of William Bryon winning that race also, because I think he is a future star. I really liked it. I think the challenge now becomes how do you incorporate a package like that for a one-off or maybe it’s Pocono and here. I don’t know how they would do it with the teams to do that. Of course, we saw they could do it in Xfinity so why can’t they do that with the Cup Series? But, I think it’s very promising.”
WHAT WILL YOUR FEELING BE WHEN YOU COME OFF THE FOURTH TURN AND YOU HAVE TO TURN INTO THE PITS INSTEAD OF DASHING DOWN TOWARDS THE FIRST TURN?
“Well, it would be a lot easier if I didn’t have 650 horsepower under my right foot. It would be no problem coming on to pit road, but this thing it wants to go, it’s a race horse. It definitely, you see that long straightaway ahead of you and you just want to gas it and go and see how far ahead you can get and let them chase you. Just like if you are sitting on the pole, but I am just more honored to be here to be a part of this event, to be a part of the Chevy team and to be able to lead them to the green. I’m sort of a perfectionist, so I like to do things and do it well. So, I’m not going to screw it up, that is my mission today.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE NEW CROP OF YOUNG DRIVERS?
“Well, when you see guys like Tony (Stewart), (Dale Earnhardt) Junior, and Carl (Edwards), myself stepping away and have had a long great run in the sport and built a nice fan base and brand you hope that would have contributed to NASCAR’s success. But as saddened as I am to see some of those guys go away, like fans are, I’m equally as excited about the young crop of drivers. I mean… Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and guys like William Byron who are going to be coming into Cup. Bowman, who is moving into Juniors’ seat next year, those are exciting times. And I think that is what fans want to see is who I’m I going to pull for next.
“The other thing is we have had a fan base that has stayed in the sport for a long, long time, been very loyal to it, but it’s how do we garner that younger fan base, their kids, their grandkids. I was a part of the concert last night because I’m a big fan of DNCE as well as the Chainsmokers and so, to see somebody like Big Machine come in and support this event, and bring something new and exciting and enjoying other types of fans of music and other events to come here to experience what it’s like to be introduced to racing. I mean I thought one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was hearing music being played on a big stage with a crowd over in Turn 4 and race cars going by. And they were finishing qualifying. That was a cool experience for me. I think that has great promise. I don’t know if you were out there last night, it was an amazing crowd. If you can bring some of the NASCAR fans to that event and some of those fans to NASCAR and then continue to grow it, I think this event can get right back to what it was at one time. This place means too much to motorsports and to NASCAR to not have it continue to be successful.”