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


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.”

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

William Byron wins Cup pole at COTA


William Byron will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron won the pole with a lap of 93.882 mph around the 3.41-mile road course Saturday. He becomes the first Cup driver to win a pole at four different road courses: Charlotte Roval (2019), Road America (2021), Indianapolis road course (2021) and COTA (2023).

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Byron will be joined on the front row by Tyler Reddick, who had posted the fastest lap in Friday’s practice and fastest lap in the opening round of qualifying Saturday. Reddick qualified at 93.783 mph.

Austin Cindric (93.459 mph) qualified third. Former IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, substituting for an injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, qualified fourth with a lap of 93.174 mph. AJ Allmendinger (93.067) will start fifth.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.

Ross Chastain, who won this event a year ago, qualified 12th. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen qualified 22nd, former world champion Jenson Button qualified 24th, seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson qualified 31st and IndyCar driver Conor Daly qualified 35th.

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly cloudy with a high of 80 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: COTA Cup starting lineup

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


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NASCAR Saturday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.

Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.

The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.

Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.

Saturday, March 25

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m.  — Truck Series
  • 2 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)