Jeff Gordon tried to play it cool about the possibility of being elected to the 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class despite it seemingly being a forgone conclusion.
“You never know until they announce it,” said Gordon. “I was trying not to get my hopes up or get too caught up into all of it.”
The four-time champion might not have been a unanimous selection, but he did receive the highest percentage of votes in Hall of Fame history. Gordon was selected by 96 percent of the voters. He watched the announcement while at the Fox Sports studios in Charlotte, the base of what has been his new job the last few years, with his family.
“When you hear your name, I had different feelings,” Gordon said. “I wasn’t that nervous until it got to that moment. Then it 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 get 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.”
Following his name, Gordon was excited to hear the next four nominees, and he was excited for each one. And he also thought about his connection to each one in some way.
Gordon raced against Roger Penske and Jack Roush teams. When Gordon debuted in the Cup Series in 1992 at Atlanta, it was the same race where Alan Kulwicki won the championship. Davey Allison was somebody “special” to Gordon, and someone to whom he looked up.
Following a brief career in what is now the Xfinity Series, Gordon moved to Cup racing full-time with Hendrick Motorsports in 1993. By 1995 he was a champion, only to add two more in ’97 and ’98. Gordon won races everywhere and often, triumphing in the sport’s biggest races while helping transcend it off the track.
Notoriety came quickly, and by 2003 he went mainstream, becoming the first –and so far, only — NASCAR driver to host “Saturday Night Live.” He’s also invested much of his personal time into charity and other causes away from the track through the years.
When Gordon hung up the helmet on his full-time career after 2015, he had won four championships and 93 races. And with his Hall of Fame selection, he will join the only car owner he’s ever driven for, Rick Hendrick, and a crew chief he found most of his success with, Ray Evernham.
That all three of those key pieces are now in the Hall of Fame says a lot about what Hendrick created with his organization, said Gordon.
“The people. Then when Ray and I came to work for Rich, Ray told me that all the resources are there, that this could be something really special,” he recounted. “Obviously, it ended up being way more than we ever anticipated.
“Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them in 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 the track.”