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Jeff Gordon has happy balance as family man, fierce competitor

NASCAR's winningest active driver
Friday, July 18, 2008


Jeff Gordon with his then pregnant wife Ingrid
As the 15th running of the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard approaches, a couple hours spent recently with four-time race winner Jeff Gordon reveals that, in many ways, he's still the 23-year-old kid who won the inaugural Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Aug. 6, 1994.

Sure, a few gray hairs are sprinkled among his sideburns. For the past 14 years, he has traveled tens of thousands of miles in a race car and hundreds of thousands more flying from races to appearances to yet another race, and he has amassed a fortune that will keep his family financially secure for generations to come.

Despite the fortune, the fame, the four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships and 81 career victories he has amassed in the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet, the Gordon one meets today is still in many ways the polite, funny, humble Gordon who left Pittsboro, Indiana in the early 1990s to seek NASCAR success.

He has achieved more than success - immortality might be a better word - but his accomplishments haven't mellowed his drive to win, either. Gordon recently visited Indianapolis to promote the 2008 Allstate 400 at the Brickyard on Sunday, July 27, and even in casual conversation with a local reporter, a steely look came over Gordon's face when asked about his 2008 Sprint Cup season.

Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team are uncharacteristically winless so far this season, yet they are sixth in points - solidly in the running for a spot in the 12-car "Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup" playoff. For most teams, it would be a dream season so far, but Gordon expects better.

"We want those wins, we want to be more competitive," he said. "We've got the consistency down. Now we just need to lead more laps and put ourselves in position to win more races.

"You never know when you're going to have your next win. It's the most competitive racing series there is. It's one of those things where I'm frustrated, (because) I feel like we could be better. We're a great team, just performance-wise we've missed a little bit and we've let a couple of opportunities slip away."

A big part of what has kept Gordon grounded all these years, he said - both during periods of success and disappointment - is his upbringing. His stepfather, John Bickford, and mother, Carol, created an atmosphere that balanced competition on the track with time for family. Gordon is putting that education to work now, given that he is happily married to model Ingrid Vandebosch and the couple has a daughter, Ella, who is 1 year old.

Jeff Gordon plays with his daughter Ella
Parenthood has changed his focus away from the track, but Gordon said he has found the proper balance of family and competition.

"I think the only thing it changes is how much I want to spend time as a parent," he said. "I know how important it was for my parents, spending time with me and making sure that I was focused on getting through life making good decisions. Us as a family, they're some of the best experiences I've had.

"To me, I want to offer those same experiences to my daughter, and racing, especially at this level, takes a lot of your time. But once I get in the race, fire up that switch, put the helmet on, there's nothing on my mind other than how do I win this race, how do I make this car go faster. That's always been the case for me, but outside the car I definitely think about those (family) things more."

The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard is the next event on the NASCAR Sprint Cup schedule, and it's a weekend that many teams circle on the calendar at the beginning of the year, Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports team among them.

Gordon has never gone more than four years without a win at the Brickyard, triumphing in 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2004. With the 2008 race only days away, Gordon said it's "about time" for that fifth win, which would be a major boost toward a fifth championship.

"We started off here (in 1994) just excited about being at Indianapolis," he said. "I was a kid who watched the race here, and to be able to race on the same track as A.J. (Foyt), Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser, Rick Mears, Mario Andretti, it was a dream come true. And then to win that race, it seems ever since then, our team always comes here ready to go, well prepared, and I'm focused and we put a great effort out there."

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