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May 23, 2018

Jeff Gordon

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by the newest member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019, with a whopping record 96% of the vote, that is four‑time champion Jeff Gordon.
Jeff, for all of us, it was a foregone conclusion. Maybe in your head you were trying to avoid that. When you heard that you were in, what was the first feeling you had?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I mean, you never know until they announce it. I was trying not to get my hopes up or get too caught up into all of it. But yet today having my family, so many people reach out to me once the announcement came, that was fantastic.
I'm so honored. I mean, I've been coming here to the Hall the last several years, being a part of other inductees. Every time I've had a chance to come here, especially when it's people that you worked with, like Ray Evernham, Rick Hendrick, people that you know, that you competed against like Mark Martin, those are when you start to realize how special this is. NASCAR has made it so special.
I've always said that timing has been on my side in my career. The timing couldn't be better than right now to be going into the Hall of Fame. This is very special.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Jeff. Congratulations.
We'll take questions now for Jeff.

Q. What about the other 4%?
JEFF GORDON: Working on getting some others in there maybe. I don't know (laughter).

Q. What was your first reaction, sharing that with your family?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I was over at FOX studios. I guess they were going all in on their bet, so they did a special. That's sort of my new team, my new family. To have my kids and Ingrid and my mom and dad over there, we were watching it live in one of their green rooms.
When you hear your name, I don't know, I had different feelings. I wasn't that nervous until it got to that moment. Then I was like, Man, this is very special.
When you're surrounded by your family, especially my mom and dad, they sacrificed everything to get me into racing. I can just see the look in their eyes of how proud they are because of the role they played, how they've seen me since I was just a kid be passionate about racing. I think sort of disbelief for all of us that it's led to this.
All that I've accomplished, the things that I've been able to experience, people I've worked with, people I've met, then now to go into the Hall of Fame is kind of surreal. I feel it was just yesterday I was driving a racecar, so it's very surreal, but a huge honor.
Then the next thing was I wanted to see who the other four were. They announced me first. I'm so excited about going in with this class of inductees. Every one of them played a role in my life in some way, somehow, whether it be directly or indirectly.
Roger Penske, I was an avid Rick Mears fan. To go in in the same year as Roger. Of course, racing against him. I know how much he means to Rick, just a class act. That stands out in my mind.
My first race was Alan Kulwicki, the one he won the championship with. That was a very special day for him.
Ray Evernham, worked for him. I knew people on his team. I went over to his shop when I was a kid first coming to North Carolina. Friends of mine knew Alan. We had people worked on my teams, probably still work at Hendrick, that used to work on Alan's team.
Jack Roush, of course, we were fierce competitors against one another. A lot of people don't realize there was some talks before I went to work for Rick Hendrick of possibly driving for Jack Roush because I was with Ford there for a couple years.
Then Davey Allison. I can't wait to see Bobby, I don't know where he is, but I can't wait to hug him because I know how much this means to him and his family. Davey was somebody special to me. I really looked up to Davey. A lot of people compared me and him because of maybe my moustache, I don't know. But he was a rockstar. He was the one that was going to take NASCAR to the next level, had his life not been cut short.
As a racecar driver, as a competitor, as a person, as a friend, he was just an awesome person. I had a special connection with him. I think all the time about where that friendship would have gone had Davey still been with us here today. Yeah, that to me is making it even more special right now.

Q. You mentioned Ray there. We got a chance to speak to him after the announcement was made. He said, I'm sure this means the most to Jeff because he's able to do it with his family and kids, especially because they didn't get to see all the wins and championships. What was their reaction? Did they fully appreciate the moment?
JEFF GORDON: Hard to tell. I mean, my son is seven, so... They thought it was cool that they were on TV because I was doing it over at FOX.
I think my wife probably shared enough with them for them to understand this is special. We don't have a lot of racing in our home. Of course, they know that I'm watching it on TV. When I take them to school, I'm listening on the radio. They certainly know from their experience at the track, from those experiences, what racing means to me. My son just started doing some quarter midget racing.
I don't know. It's hard to get it out of your kids, what this moment means to them. Certainly Ingrid was emotional. My mom and dad, emotional. By the way, Ray was the first person that texted me, the first person that I called.

Q. What did he say?
JEFF GORDON: He said, Congrats. I don't know, he seemed busy. Maybe you guys were interviewing him. He is like, Man, congrats. Great job, man. That's awesome. So happy for you. Amazing. See you later.

Q. Rick is in here, Ray is in here, now you're in here. What does it mean for you to see this power trio in the Hall of Fame now?
JEFF GORDON: I think it tells you a lot about that combination, what Rick created in his organization, the people. Then when Ray and I came to work for Rick, Ray told me that all the resources are there, that this could be something really special. Obviously it ended up being way more than we ever anticipated.
Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them is very, very, very special to me. They're obviously extremely deserving. I wouldn't be sitting here if it weren't for those two. Besides my parents, I owe those two everything, how they contributed to my life in more than just racing, but especially racing, when you look at the success we had on track.

Q. How does this compare to your championships? Is it on the same level? Way above any of that?
JEFF GORDON: Again, it's very surreal to me. I'm still trying to process this. Seeing how the Hall of Fame has inducted legends, the names that are already in the Hall, that will go into the Hall in the future, what they've contributed to this sport. On one hand I don't feel worthy of that because I put them on such a high pedestal. To me, I was a kid from California that was racing Sprint cars and midgets in Indiana, came down to North Carolina hoping and dreaming of something. But I didn't know much about NASCAR racing. Everything was IndyCar, open‑wheel, Sprint car, midget to me. I knew the Daytona 500, I knew Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt. That was it.
When you look back at that, this is very, very surreal to me. Then when I look at the last 25, 26 years, what I put into it, what it's meant to my life, how it's changed my life, I look the era through the '90s, how that has impacted and changed my life, what I gave back to a sport that gave me so much. I'm just really proud and honored to be a part of this.

Q. (No microphone.)
JEFF GORDON: Oh, yeah. In my office, I have a picture of that class. Tell me how many racecar drivers you know today that went to a driving experience, became four‑time champions or became a champion or won a race. That was unheard of. It was the craziest thing.
I look back on it, it's so nuts to me, that I went down to that driving school having no idea, no clue what that was going to lead to, what I was going to learn.
I got the opportunity through Larry Nuber, through ESPN. I was racing Thursday Night Thunder at the time. Maybe it was Saturday by then, I don't remember. There were no doors opening up for me in Indiana, in the open‑wheel ranks, besides the Sprint car, midgets. Things were going well there.
But Larry said to me, he was doing NASCAR races, Maybe you need to go check that out. He said, I can probably help you get to Buck Baker.
At that point nobody was going to necessarily put me in a car to go test or anything like that. Somehow it led to Buck Baker, the driving school. We brought cameras down from ESPN to film a little something for Thursday Night Thunder.
I met Hugh Connerty there who had a Busch Grand National car driving around. You guys know the story.
I just look at that, it's absolutely crazy. That led to meeting Leo Jackson, which then was Andy Petree, who introduced to us Ray Evernham.
I always go back and try to pinpoint moments. There are too many of them. If I pinpoint one moment, I can lead it right to another moment that was also significant in what my career did.

Q. You referenced had things gone a little bit differently, you could have been driving for Jack. Talk about when you were driving for Ford, where that went.
JEFF GORDON: I'm trying not to bore you too much with this. I'll step back a little bit more.
I did the race in Rockingham for Hugh Connerty, sat on the outside front row. Crashed on, what, lap 23. Obviously there was enough there that got some attention. I got a call from Lee Morse from Ford at home in Indiana. He said, Hey, what do you know about the Carolina Ford Dealers car, Bill Davis?
I was like, Yeah, I think I remember seeing that car. That car sounds familiar.
He said, Yeah, Mark Martin.
I said, Oh, yeah, I just saw a Busch Grand National race at Dover. That car was leading every lap. Didn't win, they had some issue, but he led a bunch of laps.
He's like, How would you like to drive that car?
I said, Are you kidding me?
He goes, Let's put you in for a test.
This had to be, I don't know, November or something. It was cold in Rockingham before the season started. It was either December or January when I actually did the test. I was, Absolutely, I would love to do it.
We went to Rockingham, had an amazing test. I look back on it, the track was probably really fast because of how cold it was. That helped me, worked in my favor.
Of course, I go to work for Bill Davis. I had a contract that was like a year‑to‑year contract with Ford where they gave me a car, a little bit of money, drove for Bill Davis.
The Roush thing I think came when they got wind that I was starting to get some offers. The first one came from Cale Yarborough in '91. I'm not even halfway through my rookie season. I can't do that.
But Bill was gracious enough to let me go test that car. Many people don't realize I tested for Cale out here at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I spun out, I just didn't hit anything.
Went through '91. Then in '92, that's when things got real. We started winning. We won the race in Atlanta. Everybody knows about the story about Rick Hendrick seeing me there. I don't know what happened, but the buzz started getting around.
Of course, Bill wanted to go Cup racing. Didn't look like a reality to me at the time. It seemed like we were a long way from being a Cup team. It was a great Busch Grand National team.
So Ford came to me and said, Hey, we'd like to talk to you about a potential opportunity with Jack Roush.
I never spoke to Jack until after all that. But that's what Ford had mentioned to me. I think it was kind of out of desperation of, We don't want to lose you in our camp. I think by that point I was already set with what I was going to do with Rick.
By the way, if I had the opportunity prior to Rick calling me, I'd have jumped on top of that. To drive for Jack Roush, how amazing would that have been? So I'm happy the way things worked out, but you can believe had I not already been signed with Rick... It all worked out for the right reasons, but I would have done that. Bill Davis would have still been mad, by the way (smiling).

Q. You have a few months to think about it. Have you given some thought to what a speech is going to look like, what the emotion might be there?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, Lord, no. I'm dreading it already as you start to mention it and ask me about it.
I think the common theme for me has just been timing. Who I've met, what role they've played, getting me into the best possible opportunity to win races, win championships. That started before NASCAR, but it ramped up to another level when I came in, especially into the Cup Series and connected with Rick and Ray.
It's a long list of people that contributed to my career, but certainly from the NASCAR side. I just had a chance, whether it be from the start with Ray, to Robbie Loomis, even their short little spurt there with Brian Whitesell, Steve Letarte. To end my career with one of the best crew chiefs out there, Alan Gustafson, to actually win, battle for a championship in my final race, we'll call it my final race, was really, really special to me.
A lot of people, but I haven't thought about it other than that.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Jeff. Congratulations again.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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