While Jeff Gordon has had a non-driving presence at Hendrick Motorsports for quite some time, he’s using a new title these days.
On January 1, the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion began life as vice chairman of the company. Gordon (above left) is now the second-ranking team official to Rick Hendrick (above right).
Over the last few weeks, business has picked up for everyone in the industry – Gordon included. Gordon has been interacting with the four Hendrick race teams and working alongside team president Marshall Carlson. There is car preparation and Next Gen testing. Don’t forget planning, working with NASCAR, owner council business, RTA (race team alliance) dealings, and more.
When it was announced late last year Gordon was moving into this role, it was noted he would primarily deal on the competition and marketing side. And Gordon does spend a lot of time doing such. But he’s also touching a little bit of everything.
“I think the reason why Rick [Hendrick] asked me to be in this role, and I think why it’s going to work is because of all the different areas I’ve touched throughout my career and the experience that I have, and I want to tap into that,” Gordon tells RACER. “I also want to learn from Rick and Marshall [Carlson], and the things Jeff Andrews (general manager) is involved with, and Pat Perkins (vice president of marketing), and Chad Knaus, and every aspect of the business that I possibly can.
“But I’m always going to tap into what I have the most experience and knowledge of, which is what it’s like to drive a race car for a competitive team, and everything that comes along with that. But I’m just looking at it from a different perspective now that I’ve stepped outside of being the driver.”
At 50 years old, Gordon heads into this next chapter at a time when he’s well-rounded enough to handle it. He has gone through much of what the sport has to offer: a successful race car driver who understood the art of publicity and merchandise, who also learned about ownership as a co-owner, then went into television with Fox Sports and saw the entertainment side of the industry.
Gordon now spends more time on the Hendrick campus than ever. It might even be safe to say he’s become an office-type guy.
“This is a 27/4 (job),” Gordon laughs. “Rick and I joke all the time because, for some reason, I waited until I was 50 to have a real job. And I wouldn’t have been prepared for it any sooner. I’m in a place in my life where my kids are at an age it works for them. Ingrid and I have been married for 15 years, and we’re settled and in a good place where I can commit the time and effort it takes to do this job well.
“That’s the one thing – through all of this, I’ve realized how much I love racing. How passionate I am for it. Even though most of those years were spent behind the wheel of a race car, I’m looking forward to just as many years being in a role like this and being part of a great organization like this, and contributing. I don’t know if I’ll be able to contribute as much as I did as a race car driver, but I’m certainly going to work hard at it because I love being able to still be a part of racing and in this capacity.”
Hendrick enters the 2022 season riding high on two consecutive driver championships with Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. Their lineup is young and talented, and Gordon doesn’t need to do or be involved in what they do on track. But what he does believe he can help when it comes to conversations.
“I’m a talker, so I like creating conversations, so anytime I’m in a room or meeting, and I feel like there’s enough back and forth, I’ll try to inject something that gets the conversation going,” says Gordon. “But I think most of it is trying to help the drivers balance their efforts and importance of what they do with the race team. You cannot beat hard work. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you’re not willing to put in all the effort and work really hard at it and push yourself, then you’re not going to see the success you want to see. We have a lot of guys like that.
“I think where I can come in more is how the sport is always an entertainment sport. You have to balance out competition and – we all want to be out there and be the best race car drivers and perform on the track – performing off the track too.”
On the other side, Gordon is now a part of the group handling big-ticket items.
“Our sponsors every day or every week are challenging us, ‘OK, we’ve got to grow our business, and we believe in NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports and our drivers, how can we continue to move the needle?’” he says. “I think sometimes I can help from the branding and the different areas that I did in my career.”
More so, Gordon wants to look ahead to long-term sponsor agreements being locked up and keeping up with the changing landscape and environment from a business perspective. Hendrick has many business-to-business relationships, and Gordon understands the importance of delivering on those.
“Working with the other teams and seeing what everybody’s challenges are,” he says. “Working together, partnering together, partnering with NASCAR as we look at what the future looks like, not just with Next Gen but the future of how we bring the sport to the fans.”
And it’s only natural to think about how Gordon, now being vice chairman, sets up his future and the long-term vision of Hendrick Motorsports.
“I don’t know that that’s my primary focus right now,” he admits. “I’m looking more of what I can to work with Rick and help and contribute to this company as much as possible. He’s humble. I’m humble. So when I’m giving him credit for getting me to where I am today, the success I had as a race car driver, he’s quick to turn that right around. ‘Well, we wouldn’t be where we are today…’ and we go back and forth, and we laugh.
“I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most over the last, definitely year and a half, I’d say, is how close I’ve been able to work with Rick. Maybe even since I stopped driving. We always had a great relationship, and some of my greatest moments and worst moments, he’s been there for me through them, and maybe vice versa in some ways. But to be able to call him and talk to him, go fishing with him, do the things I can do in this role, and Linda [Hendrick] has been truly one of the great pleasures that I’ve enjoyed because I love them so much; they’ve meant so much to me, almost like parents or maybe Rick’s like a big brother.
“But getting to see how he thinks, and how he runs his business, and the way he looks at things different than the way I look at things, that’s all I’m focused on. What can I do to do the best job I can working alongside him and Marshall Carlson.”