I write this post as a tribute to not only a legend, but to one of the all time greats of the racing world. As a fan of yours for over 15 years, I know I am of a younger generation of fans that loves you and your racing ability. I can't speak for all of #GordonNation, but I will try in this post. Going into this I understand that there is no amount of words that can sum up the career you have had, and there is no where near enough words on this page to properly thank you for all you have done. In the next handful of paragraphs, I will try to let you know how I feel about your legacy and the contributions you have given to the sport. I know for some you leaving may be just another driver hitting the road, but to me and the rest of the rainbow warriors across the world, this is one of the saddest times of our lives. Well, let's get going, I hope you enjoy.
This week as been a long one. I keep trying to picture what Sunday will be like when you step away, and I can't quite find a clear image. Sunday WILL be emotional, filled with sadness, happiness, anxiety, nervousness, and many other emotions in between. I never thought I would feel this way watching you leave, but I have learned something about myself; that no matter what, I have loved being a Jeff Gordon fan. Though other fans may hate your success and talent, I know you are a legend. I have never seen you win a championship since I have been a fan, but I know the man that came before. I will admit that I never had the chance to see you in your prime, but I know your importance to the sport I love. In this post, I want to put all my attention into YOU, not the fans. We all love you, and I want to thank you for everything you have done. While thinking this post through I have found 7 reasons to thank you, and though I am sure there are a few more I couldn't think of, this is my best attempt to thank you for everything you have done for us, the fans.
First, thank you for believing in stock car racing. From what I have learned about your childhood and beginnings in racing, all signs pointed to Indy. An open wheel career looked promising, and who could blame you. You had taken every step to open wheel stardom, winning on dirt and asphalt, you were undoubtedly going to be successful. Then you took the time to come to Charlotte and try out a stock car, which eventually changed your life. As I recall from documentaries I have watched, you fell in love with stock cars and decided that racing in NASCAR was what you wanted to do with your life. Thank You. Since you have been in NASCAR so long, I think many of us forget that you could have easily not been here. You could have raced almost anything and been successful, so I thank you for choosing NASCAR and sticking with it. You could have decided this wasn't your thing and moved on, but no, you decided to spend 20 plus years behind the wheel of a 3300-pound wrecking ball. I know you didn't make this decision for the fans, but thank you because looking back there was a chance that we may have never seen your talent in front of our eyes.
Second, thank you for changing the sport. NASCAR had already been a house hold sport by the time you introduced yourself to the Cup series in 1992 (first career race), but no one expected you to have the impact that you did. Though I was not alive yet, I completely understand how you impacted the sport. You gave a southern, nothing but redneck sport a personality, something outsiders could gravitate to. You were never afraid to talk to cameras, go on talk shows, or even put on a fake mullet for Saturday Night Live, which broadened the sports horizon. You also opened the door for younger drivers and non-southern boys. At the young age of 21, you started Cup full-time, which is something that was almost unheard of. You started the trend of finding younger drivers which allows youngsters like Joey Logano, Chase Elliot, and Kyle Larson, to be future stars of the sport. In addition, you showed that coming from the west coast or mid-west was no longer a bad thing. Without you, there may not have been a Kevin Harvick or Jimmie Johnson (hit on that a next). Thank you for showing drivers that no matter where you come from you can be a face of the sport with the right attitude and success. Without you, NASCAR could have very well gotten stuck in the times and never found the mainstream success it has now.
Third, thank you for being a mentor. Most fans know the story, but just in case you have forgotten, Jimmie Johnson is Jeff Gordon's masterpiece. No doubt Johnson is talented, but 'ole 6-time' had not shown much success before 2002, when Gordon decided to put him in a Cup car. Gordon approached owner Rick Hendrick and told him about this driver that had raced him well in the Busch series, and next thing you know Jimmie Johnson is running full-time in the #48 car. This showed us how much you cared for fellow drivers and wanted to see the sport grow. You single-handedly introduced us to one of the greatest talents we have seen in the Cup Series. Thank you for taking the time to help not only Johnson, but drivers across the series. I remember you being the only one that would work with young Trevor Bayne in 2011 when he was trying to make his first Daytona 500 start, which he later won. I have heard you guided Steve Letarte through his career, and that shows how much you care for the sport. You didn't have to help anyone, you could have just focused on you, but you chose to make a difference in this sport. Thank you.
Fourth, thank you for becoming a role model. When kids grow up and decide to be racecar drivers, they strive to be like you. Even Kyle Busch, one of the fiercest Cup competitors today, has stated that you were his childhood idol. You have not only shown a tremendous amount of success on the track, but off the track as well. Your work with AARP and your children's foundation has helped multiple families overcome battles, something that you again never had to do. Aside from charitable work, you are the ideal driver in terms of handling sponsors and fans. There is a reason Axalta/Dupont has stayed with you for over twenty years; that doesn't happen every day. You have treated them well over the years, and they in return have always had your back. Corporate America evolves everyday, so when a large company like Axalta sticks with just one guy for over two decades, that in itself is a statement. You have also handled fans the best you knew how. I myself had the chance to get an autograph from you in 2013 while you were in a rush, and you still signed for me. You were on a golf cart and leaving and still took the time to sign my checkard flag. Though I have never dealt with fans swarming me, I am sure it can be a pain at times, but you have always tried to handle them the best you can. To this point, I want to thank you for being the perfect all-around racecar driver. You are the full package, a driver that can put the car in victory lane and handle the outside distractions very well. If I am ever lucky enough to watch my future kids race, I want them to aspire to be like you.
Fifth, that you for staying true to you. NASCAR has changed dramatically over the span of your 23-year career. Two complete different points formats have come, four generations of cars have passed, and yet you still stick to who you are. You are still the wiley veteran who can win any given Sunday. You may have not had the speed over the last few years, but you sure have had the drive, and that is what us fans want to see. You have proven that at times the race can still be won by out driving someone, not by being the fastest. You have never tried to change who you are over the years, and fans love that. Your personality is the same and so is your driving style. The Jeff Gordon of 2015 may be a little older and wiser, but for the most part you are still that young fresh-cut kid who can put the petal to the metal any given Sunday.
Sixth, thank you for never giving up. Fans know that age has played a role in your career, but you haven't slowed down or gotten discouraged. The 2015 season is the perfect example of that. There were points in the season where us 24 fans weren't sure what was going to happen this year. You hadn't won a race, and the Chase was not a lock, but you stuck through it and so did we. Then during the Chase, you kept pushing your team to give you what they can, and they did. You proved you can still turn a 20th place car into a top-10 ride, and that is what got you through the first couple of rounds. At Martinsville when things were uncertain, you kept digging and eventually walked away with a win, and now it comes down to one race. I know one race for all the marbles may not suit you very well, but I know you will keep digging and thats all that counts in my book. Because of your dedication, this season and never giving up on what looked to be a terrible ending to an amazing career you kept kicking, and now the drive for five is still alive.
Lastly, thank you for the memories. I'll state again that I was not a fan during your golden years (94-01), but I understand your legacy. I myself have watched many great moments in your career that I will never forget. I have seen you battle your butt off for a championship in 2007, seen you tie Dale Earnhardt Sr. in wins and honor him with a huge #3 flag, but my favorite memory is seeing you win at Martinsville earlier this month. I have never seen you so excited, and my heart was pounding. To see the passion you have for the sport and winning your last title, made me realize you have a chance. Thank you for all the memories, and thank you giving us fans all you have for this last season. We really appreciate it. Thank you for every single thing you have ever done inside a race car. There will never be another Jeff Gordon, and trust me your legacy will live forever. Thank you for being the driver you are, but most importantly, thank you for being the legend we know as Jeff Gordon.