Mother’s fear helped launch Jeff Gordon’s Hall of Fame career

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Charlotte, N.C — Jeff Gordon may not have had his historic NASCAR career if his mother had attended his first sprint car race.

John and Carol Ann Bickford knew it would be a bad idea if Carol Ann watched her 13-year-old son, who had only driven quarter midgets and go-karts at that point, be scared by the power of a sprint car.

Had she been at the All-Star Circuit of Champions Speedweek in Florida in 1985, she might not have seen Gordon be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame 34 years later.

Jeff Gordon with John and Carol Ann Bickford. (Daniel McFadin)

“There was a method behind John’s madness,” Carol Ann told NBC Sports after Friday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “He knew what it was going to be like for Jeff to get out on the track for the very first time in that sprint car. He knew that it would scare him. He knew that it was powerful.”

So she didn’t join them on the trip from Vallejo, California. She didn’t see Gordon get the “crap scared (out of me)” in way that was never matched.

The decision to race sprint cars came in 1984 after Gordon and Bickford, his stepfather, read an article in Open Wheel magazine touting Sport Allen, a 15-year-old who was already driving sprints.

“(Bickford) had this great idea of, ‘If he can do it at 15, I know you can do it at 13,” Gordon recalled last weekend before his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame.

He and Bickford’s first attempt to “prove that theory” came on a February night at Jax Raceway in Jacksonville.

That first night, Bickford was right – about the power.

“I can tell you the first time I stood on the throttle of that race car, (Bickford’s) theory was dead wrong,” Gordon said. “(I) thought my career in racing was pretty much going to go back to go-karts and quarter midgets right away.”

Carol Ann knew those thoughts could have been exacerbated had she been in attendance.

“As a mother, you see your son react to being that scared about something, (and) it’s hard to say how things would have ended up if I would have said, ‘Let’s just pack this up and let’s not do this.'”

Had that occurred, it could have had an unforeseen impact on NASCAR.

Gordon may not have made his Xfinity Series debut at Rockingham Speedway in 1990.

He may not have won the March 1992 Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he was spotted by Rick Hendrick. Hendrick would field Gordon’s Cup debut eight months later and all 805 of his series starts through 2016.

Over those 24 years, Gordon may not have won 93 races, four championships and helped solidify NASCAR’s place as a mainstream sport.

But luckily, as Gordon said Friday night, his mother is “smart woman.”

Carol Ann and Bickford were there to see Gordon receive his Hall of Fame ring from Hendrick and Gordon’s children. Gordon became emotional as he spoke of Hendrick’s impact on his life and then watched tearfully a video he had selected of his 19-year-old self speaking about his hopes for his career.

As the video ended, a career neatly wrapped, Gordon wiped his eyes and walked off stage.

“In some miraculous way it worked out ,” Gordon said of his sprint car career that led to NASCAR stardom. “I never had an injury, (I) won races and it opened up doors and it was absolutely the right move at the right time for us.

“Eventually (Carol Ann) started coming to the race track once I got some experience and then she was my biggest fan.”

NASCAR Open starting lineup at Bristol

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Michael McDowell will start on the pole for the NASCAR Open at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw. Aric Almirola joins him on the front row.

Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

The winners of each segment advance to the All-Star Race, along with the fan vote winner. Last year, Kyle Larson won a segment in the Open to advance to the All-Star Race and then won that event. Other segment winners last year were William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Alex Bowman advanced through the fan vote a year ago. Bowman has already qualified for this year’s All-Star Race.

 

NASCAR Open at Bristol 

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 85 laps over three segments, 45.3 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 35 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 15 laps.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Martin Truex Jr. to start on pole for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Martin Truex Jr., who is seeking his first All-Star Race win, will start on the pole for Wednesday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Truex will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman.

Rookie Cole Custer, who earned a spot in the All-Star Race with his win Sunday at Kentucky, will start eighth.

Click here for All-Star Lineup

  • Positions 17-19 will go to segment winners from the NASCAR Open. The 20th starting spot goes to the fan vote winner, which will be announced after the NASCAR Open

Among the special rules for the race:

# The Chose Rule will be used. As drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they must commit to the inside or outside lane for the restart.

# The car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give sponsors more exposure.

# Cars that have automatically qualified for the All-Star Race will have underglow lights on their cars.

 

NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol 

Race Time: 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 140 laps over four segments, 74.6 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 55 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 35 laps. Segment 4 is 15 laps (only green flag laps count in this segment).

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Xfinity playoff grid after Kentucky doubleheader

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The Xfinity Series went to Kentucky Speedway for a doubleheader and Austin Cindric left the track with two wins and a spot in the playoffs.

Cindric, who claimed the first oval track NASCAR wins of his career, is now third on the playoff grid among the six drivers locked into the postseason. He has 15 playoff points.

Noah Gragson, who is second on the grid, won three of four stages in Kentucky and has 18 playoff points.

Six spots remain to be filled on the playoff grid. The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Ryan Sieg (+57 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+14).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-14 points from cutline), Jeremy Clements (-30), Alex Labbe (-42) and Jesse Little (-47).

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

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Cole Custer delivered the first curveball to the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff chase Sunday when he won at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer entered the race 25th in the points, nine spots back from the cutoff line for 16-driver field.

Now, Custer is one of nine drivers locked into the playoffs, meaning the cutoff for the postseason is 15th in points.

Among those currently in the playoff grid who are not locked in, the last two are William Byron (+30 points) and Jimmie Johnson (+24).

The first four drivers sitting outside a playoff spot are Austin Dillon (-24 points from cutoff), Tyler Reddick (-41), Erik Jones (-42) and Bubba Wallace (-84).