NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Gordon will be honored, along with four others, in a ceremony Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center. Here is his story, in his words, as told to Charlotte Observer reporter Brendan Marks:
By Jeff Gordon
How did I get here?
I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately. Preparing for this Hall of Fame speech, knowing I’ve got to stand up in front of a lot of folks that mean a lot to me — peers, folks in the racing industry, family, friends — preparing for that is stressful for me. I certainly want to say the right things to the people who made significant contributions. I want them to know how much it means to me.
So I’ve been going back. Thinking. But it seems like I always come back to that same thing:
How in the world did this all happen?
I started making notes preparing for my speech — shoot, probably as soon as I knew I was going to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s just like, OK, this thing is becoming a reality. Every once in a while, things would pop into my mind and I’d write down notes in my phone.
And in doing that, it just allowed me to go back and reminisce about major moments that were turning points in my NASCAR career.
I’m sure everybody has a similar story. But for me, I think the greatest gift that I had along the way was timing. I feel like if anybody had been introduced to racing at a young age like I had, and did as much racing as I did at a young age, then I think most would have excelled under the circumstances I was presented with.
So to me, the key factor was just being at the right place at the right time.
BUCK BAKER DRIVING SCHOOL
So, why me?
For the longest time, I didn’t even know the full story.
I called Hugh Connerty, who was my first car owner in NASCAR, to invite him to the Hall of Fame ceremony – I’m so excited he’s coming — but I also wanted to pick his brain. To ask him, How the heck did this stuff happen? And why?
When I first met Hugh, I was at Buck Baker Driving School. Now look … we all know you don’t go into NASCAR racing or get a ride in the Busch Grand National Series (now the Xfinity Series) today if you go to a driving school. That just doesn’t happen … but yet, it happened to me. So I call Hugh to ask him, and he says, ‘Well, this is how I remember it.’
He told me he had purchased this car and wanted to go run a few races.
‘I wasn’t prepared to go driving in the Cup Series,’ he said, ‘so I thought Busch Grand National might be fun.’
He’s a businessman. (Connerty owned several steakhouses at the time). He had the means to do it.
Hugh’s connection was to Leo Jackson, who owned a Cup team. He married Leo’s daughter. But the key was, I think Hugh must’ve gone to the Buck Baker Driving School and built a relationship with Buck. So he said, ‘Hey Buck, every once in a while, can I bring this car and make some laps in it? Might do some racing, but for right now I just want to have some fun with it.’ Well Buck obliged and took care of him that way. So that’s how Hugh was in Rockingham the same time I was there.
Then there’s Benny Parsons. With his connection to ESPN, he was sort of the link, saying, ‘Hey, this kid’s racing up in Indiana, he’s racing midgets and sprint cars, and he’s going to be at Buck Baker Driving School.’ Somehow he knew that Hugh would bring his car there from time to time.
My understanding was Benny said, ‘Man, it’d be cool to put Jeff behind the wheel. Kind of see how it goes, see how he likes it, how he does.’ So — and this is from what I understand — Benny called Leo Jackson and told him I was going to be there and he might want to put me behind the wheel of that car.
I never knew that.
All these years, no idea.
All I knew was that I...