By Phil Barber - The Press Democrat

Missing: Quarter Midget race car. Last seen in 1978. Make unknown. Identifying characteristics: fuzzy body surface, round aluminum front axle that has been broken and welded together. If found, please contact the man with the most consecutive starts in NASCAR history.

Yes, Jeff Gordon is searching for his first car.

More accurately, Gordon’s stepfather, John Bickford, is looking for the car. It’s not like Bickford spends his days sleuthing, Columbo-style. But for years he has kept an eye out for the vehicle, following up on leads that have always resulted in dead ends.

“Oh yeah, over the years I’ve had 20 or 30 people tell me, ‘I’ve got Jeff’s car,’” Bickford explained over the phone recently. “I’ll say, ‘How do you know?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, I bought it from this guy, and he told me that the guy he bought it from said it had belonged to Jeff.’ I’ve had some people bring me cars. But I’ve never seen one that was Jeff Gordon’s car.”

On a bus ride in June, from his first regular track in Rio Lindo to his middle school in Vallejo, Gordon expressed interest in recovering the car. He said he has one of his old sprint cars, and a previous NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car. But Bickford noted that they don’t own any of Gordon’s cars from the Quarter Midget and Midget era. 1977 - Winning Western States Championship

Gordon’s favorite was a car that Bickford sold to a man in Portland, Ore., in 1981. The buyer’s first name was Tom; for the life of him, Bickford can’t remember the last name.

“It had a custom-made aluminum hood, black with flames,” Bickford said. “It was No. 16. There were only two of these cars ever made, by a guy named Stanley. Jeff was so mad at me for selling it.”

But the real prize would be...

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