Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of NASCAR, you still recognize the names Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty. Don’t feel bad, as Gordon didn’t always follow NASCAR growing up in California, and then Indiana.
At the NASCAR Acceleration weekend, in conjunction with the Hall of Fame inductions in Charlotte, both Jeff Gordon and Richard Petty sat down for a Q&A session with members of the media and fans, hosted by Gordon’s friend and former teammate, Ricky Craven.
Here is a little trivia for you, too. Did you know that Jeff Gordon’s first Cup Series race in the Fall of 1992 in Atlanta was the last career race for Richard Petty? Gordon reminded the Hall of Famer Petty that he is just one of a handful of current Sprint Cup Series drivers who have competed against Petty on the track.
“Coming from open-wheel racing and not growing up (following stock car racing), I got grief for that in my early years in NASCAR because I wasn’t the stereotypical driver who grew up in the south who really knew the sport – but one thing I did know was who Richard Petty was and who Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) was,” Gordon recounted. “Looking back on it now to know that I had the opportunity – I think I’m like one of three guys who raced against you (Petty) and that makes me feel a little old. But I’m honored, you know. That day in 1992 is very special to me and one that I’ll never forget.”
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Petty recalled seeing Gordon for the first time, and it was a story the fans especially appreciated.
“You know, I remember a little guy coming into a Hendrick car. I’d watch (Gordon) in the garage area and stuff,” Petty said. “Here’s some pipsqueak of a guy, he looked about 14 years old. He had a mustache and I never could figure out if it was magic marker or what.”
For his last race, Petty passed out money clips that had his face and name engraved on them, and he had the driver’s starting position included. They were handed out at the driver’s meeting. Gordon said he still has that momento at his home, but forgot to bring it to Charlotte.
“It was a money clip, and what I did, I gave it to him so that maybe in 20 years he could give it back with money in it,” Petty continued to joke.
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It was a light-hearted exchange between two pieces of NASCAR history, as Dupont celebrated 20 years of sponsorship of Gordon in the No. 24 car, and revealed a new paint scheme for his ride in 2012. Gordon is hopeful he’ll get the same kind of treatment from Dupont as Petty received from STP, who once told him “as long as you’re driving that car, we’re sponsoring it.” The two hold the records for longest-running sponsorships between a single driver and company.
Petty has seen it all, and must get a kick out of the amazing technological advances during the course of his career, and in today’s cars. For instance, when Petty first started running, they did not even have seat belts in the cars. And Petty made mention that the cars did not have radio communication until at least the late 1970′s. Now, there are teams of spotters, fans can follow along and listen to In-car audio on Sprint’s NASCAR FanView, seeing and hearing all of the action as it happens. Sprint also offers its customers the ability with NASCAR Sprint Cup Mobile to monitor live In-car audio from chosen drivers right from their phones.
Gordon talked about some of the safety devices which have come along during his career which have really been huge, including the HANS Sports II head and neck support device, which uses renewably sourced DuPont Zytel RS polyamide.
“For me I would say HANS Device would probably be number one,” Gordon said of the most important safety improvements during his career. “I hit a few walls back in the mid-1990′s, and I look back on those wrecks and I didn’t have a HANS device, I really question how I survived knowing what I now know. You know, with the whiplash effect and just how far your body and head move in the seat, those type of things. So, the HANS device is just unbelievable how much it controls your head, and it’s an incredible safety feature in my opinion.”
Gordon also specifically mentioned the Shark Fin, and the roof flaps as being huge safety advances. The Shark Fin is located on the back of the Sprint Cup cars on the left side of the rear window, an advance which came from wind-tunnel testing.
“The roof flaps, we talk about going to Daytona having these bigger restrictor plates running 200-plus miles per hour, and if it weren’t for roof flaps, I don’t think we would be doing that,” Gordon said. “And the Shark Fin, that’s keeping the cars on the ground.”
Petty sits at the top of the all-time NASCAR wins list with 200 career victories and seven championships, with Hall of Famer David Pearson second all-time with 105 wins. Gordon leads all active drivers with 85 checkered flags. Gordon is third on the overall wins list, one ahead of Bobby Allison and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee Darrell Waltrip, and two ahead of 2012 Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough.
It was a great time for all present, listening to these two icons of the sport swap stories and talk about how racing has evolved, yet still remains the same.
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- Over the past 12 years, Daniel Dobish has written for CBSSports.com, OPENSports.com, RotoExperts.com and several other prestigious sports and fantasy sports websites and magazines. Originally from Cleveland, Dan now lives in the Raleigh, N.C. area with his wife and two sons. You may contact Dan @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @danieledobish