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

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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.”

Watch NASCAR Hall of Fame induction at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The 10th NASCAR Hall of Fame class will be inducted tonight, with the ceremony beginning at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

This year’s five-member class is one of the most prolific and is headlined by four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon.

Gordon’s induction comes four years after he ended his full-time career at the end of 2015.

“It’s been a hell of a ride, I can tell you that,” Gordon said on Sunday prior to his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame. “Each year that I’m out of being in a competitive environment I appreciate the career I had, the time that I came into the sport, the people I was able to connect with. The media, how the press treated me over the years and told my story. I now look back on it and go, ‘Damn, did all that really happen?’ It just seemed like it flew by in the moments that I was competing.”

Here’s who will join the Gordon in the Hall of Fame.

Alan Kulwicki – The 1992 Cup champion won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Davey Allison – The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, Davey won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500 and was the 1987 Cup Rookie of the Year. Three months after Kulwicki’s death, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Jack Roush – Owner of Roush Fenway Racing, Roush has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series. He won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 title with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Roger Penske – The owner of Team Penske, “The Captain” is a two-time Cup championship owner with Brad Keselowski (2012) and Joey Logano (2018). Penske built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. 

Click here at 8 p.m. ET to watch online.

NASCAR commercials that deserve to be in Hall of Fame

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Hello and welcome to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

I’ll be your guide as you take a tour of the museum’s newest wing – the Michael Waltrip “I’m at the wrong track” Advertising Hall of Excellence.*

Yes, it’s a mouth-full, but here in NASCAR we’re no stranger to saying a lot in Victory Lane to pay the bills.

And that’s what this exhibit is dedicated to – excellent examples of NASCAR and its teams paying the bills that also entertained loyal fans during breaks in the TV action.

Now, enjoy your trip through this loving look at some of NASCAR’s best commercial campaigns., and remember to watch the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction tomorrow night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

*This isn’t real, but it should be.

Newman!

Aside from last season’s NASCAR Fantasy commercial, there’s a severe lack of ad campaigns these days that feature multiple drivers from separate teams and showcase their personalities all in one place. But back in the 2000s the Gillette Young Guns campaign was the standard-bearer for such a concept. Oh, and John Cena was in one.

How Bad Have You Got It?

How do you advertise NASCAR in an entertaining way without including a single shot of a stock car, a track or a NASCAR driver? Via the heightened reality of the “How Bad Have You Got It?” campaign.

The series is helped by depicting the actions of one man and his NASCAR addicted family over a majority of the ads.

Personal favorite: spraying champagne at a wedding anniversary.

Ride Along Program

During NASCAR’s 50th anniversary in 1998, this ESPN campaign featured multiple Cup drivers giving “rides” in the back of their cars to celebrities and actors playing every day people (with their dogs and their weasel collections).

Personal favorite: Richard Petty trying to commandeer his son Kyle’s ride after a bout of back-seat driving.

Honorable Mentions

Dale Jarrett and the UPS Truck

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and “Dale Call”

“Dreamin'” with Kasey Kahne

What are your favorite NASCAR commercial campaigns? Share in the comments or on social media at  and on Facebook.

Jeff Gordon would be ‘truly honored’ to take on ownership of Hendrick Motorsports

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — At some point, Jeff Gordon could be introduced as the owner of Hendrick Motorsports.

If that moment comes, the four-time Cup champion said he would be “truly honored” to take the reign from the team’s founder, Rick Hendrick.

Gordon, who is a minority owner of the team he drove full-time for from 1993-2015, addressed his potential future Sunday before his induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Hendrick himself made waves in December when he indicated Gordon could take over for him.

“That’s the way we’re going. Whenever I finally step away, it’ll be Jeff Gordon in my place,” Hendrick was quoted as saying in an Autoweek feature. The story focused on how Cup teams are planning for the future with aging owners.

Hendrick, who has owned Hendrick Motorsports since 1984, turns 70 in July. Gordon, 47, has been an analyst for Fox Sports since 2016 and recently signed a multi-year extension with the network.

Gordon said he and Hendrick have been talking about his potential future since three years before he retired.

“I went to Rick and told him what I wanted to do and felt like it was the right time,” Gordon said. “I felt like things were starting to line up with Chase Elliott. So those things were playing out well timing-wise for me and I thought for Hendrick. Because I have so much respect for the organization, being not just an equity owner but what they’ve done for me, what that organization did for my career, I feel like I owe that back to them to be respectful and to try and give all that I can back to it to continue to see it be successful even when I stepped away.”

At the time of their conversation, Gordon didn’t think Hendrick was ready to step aside and they agreed going into TV would be good branding for Gordon and HMS.

Their conversations have continued through his first three seasons with Fox, a job Gordon said “suits me well.”

“I just told him, ‘Rick, I’m really liking TV. And I don’t think you’re quite ready and I don’t know if I’m quite ready to move into that role, so I’m probably going to sign an extension or new contract with Fox to keep doing that,'” Gordon said. “So of course I told him that and then he went and put that out in there in the media.”

Gordon doesn’t know exactly what will come of his ownership talks with Hendrick, but that “I can see in the future that interesting me a lot,” Gordon said.

Gordon also advocates for more teams having former drivers with business savvy in leadership roles.

“We need more guys like Tony (Stewart), like myself, others who are racers that get the business side of it,” Gordon said. “They see the business side of it and have somebody, a mentor like a Rick Hendrick, like a Jack Roush or a Roger Penske or whoever it may be to be able to form who that person can be to take over that role.”

Gordon said the “greatest news” coming out of the ownership speculation is that Hendrick “doesn’t want to see the destiny of Hendrick end any time soon.

“If that day ever comes, I would be truly honored even though I don’t think I can do the job that he’s done.”

Should he one day take up Hendrick’s mantle, Gordon noted that he’d finally have to work for a living.

“That would be the first time other than when my parents made me sweep floors and run the machine shop … when I was a kid during summers that I actually had a real job,” Gordon said. “‘Cause running a race team or being in that role in a race team, that is a real job.”

NASCAR Hall of Famer Glen Wood dies at 93

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Wood Brothers Racing patriarch Glen Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012, died Friday. He was 93.

The team announced his passing Friday morning on social media.

Wood was a link to NASCAR’s early years.

A former driver – he won four times at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. – Glen Wood founded the Wood Brothers Racing team with brothers Leonard and Delano. In Wood’s first win at Bowman Gray Stadium in April 1960, he beat a field that included former champions Richard Petty, Rex White, Ned Jarrett and Lee Petty. Wood’s history also includes seeing Tim Flock race with a monkey and having Ralph Earnhardt drive convertible and sportsman cars for the team.

His racing career nearly ended as soon as it started. Wood and a friend paid $50 for a 1938 Ford coupe to go racing. The Stuart, Virginia, native ran his first race at a track near Martinsville. During the heat race, his car was hit and bent the rear-end housing. After the race, Wood and his friend hooked the race car to the vehicle they were driving and headed home.

But on the trip, the axle eventually broke, and the damage caused spilling fuel to ignite. The fire engulfed the back of the race car.

“Every once in a while one of them (gas cans) would blow up, and we would be afraid to get close to it because of that,” Wood recalled in a 2011 interview. “Finally we got it unhooked and got the car away from (the one pulling it) and let it burn because we couldn’t do anything about it.”

They salvaged the engine and repaired the car. A few weeks later, Wood was back racing.

While Leonard is often credited as the father of the modern pit stop, Glen was equally as responsible. The two developed a communication and strategy plan that was one of the best in NASCAR for several decades.

Wood Brothers Racing, which has 99 Cup victories, remains the oldest continuous racing team in NASCAR. Among the drivers that have raced for the team are Hall of Famers David Pearson, Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen, Cale Yarborough, Dale Jarrett and Bill Elliott.

Born on July 18, 1925, Glen retired as a driver at the age of 39, assuming full-time duties as the team’s chief administrator, a role that he handled for nearly 30 years before relegating the role to sons Eddie and Len.

Through the years, Wood’s name mysteriously changed. His birth certificate lists his first name as Glenn, but somewhere along the way the last letter was dropped.

Wood received the colorful nickname of “Wood Chopper” early on for how he used to cut timber at a Virginia sawmill. But when Glen started racing, that nickname followed him and became somewhat of a calling card for his winning ways.

“When he pulled into a racetrack, and the announcer would say, ‘Here comes the Wood Chopper from Stuart, Virginia,’ you knew you had a challenger that night,” Ned Jarrett, a fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer, said of Glen Wood in a 2012 NASCAR Hall video of Glen Wood’s career. “Glen Wood, he was the master.”

Kyle Petty, who drove for the Wood Brothers during his career, was a Hall of Fame voter when the group discussed who to induct in the 2012 class. Behind the closed doors, Petty made an impassioned speech for the voters to select Wood for induction.

“I think people forget the breadth of somebody’s career sometimes when it spans as long as his,” Kyle Petty said that day in 2011.

In a statement, Edsel B. Ford II, member of the Board of Directors for Ford Motor Company, said of Wood’s passing:

“This is a difficult day for all of us at Ford Motor Company. Glen Wood was the founding patriarch of the oldest continuously operating NASCAR Cup Series team and we consider Wood Brothers Racing a part of our family, the Ford Family. The Wood Brothers race team, by any measure, has been one of the most successful racing operations in the history of NASCAR. Most importantly for our company, Glen and his family have remained loyal to Ford throughout their 69-year history.

“Glen was an innovator who, along with his family, changed the sport itself.  But, more importantly, he was a true Southern gentleman who was quick with a smile and a handshake and he was a man of his word.   I will cherish the memories of our chats in the NASCAR garage, at their race shop in Mooresville or the racing museum in Stuart.  My most memorable moment with Glen was with he and his family in the #21 pit box watching Trevor Bayne win the 2011 Daytona 500 and the celebration that followed in victory lane.”

In a statement, NASCAR’s Jim France said: “In every way, Glen Wood was an original. In building the famed Wood Brothers Racing at the very beginnings of our sport, Glen laid a foundation for NASCAR excellence that remains to this day. As both a driver and a team owner, he was, and always will be, the gold standard. But personally, even more significant than his exemplary on-track record, he was a true gentleman and a close confidant to my father, mother and brother. On behalf of the France family and all of NASCAR, I send my condolences to the entire Wood family for the loss of a NASCAR giant.”

In a statement, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said: “Everyone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is saddened by the passing of Glen Wood. The word ‘legendary’ sometimes is overused, but it absolutely fits Glen and the team that he and his brother, Leonard, founded and built into a powerhouse in NASCAR. Wood Brothers Racing has such a deep, rich connection to IMS through its multiple entries in the Brickyard 400 and by serving as the pit crew for the Lotus/Ford that Jim Clark drove to victory in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Glen’s legacy as a fine driver and motorsports innovator will be matched only by his enduring status as one of racing’s true gentlemen and class acts.”

Jerry Bonkowski contributed to this report