Hello my friends.
I have found it difficult to write here for the past year. I’ve gone through some extreme changes in my life, both personally and professionally and unfortunately most of them have been unpleasant. As a result, it’s left me with little desire to write about anything, much less NASCAR, for which most of you come here to read about. And since I’m not being paid anymore for my opinions and words, my former employer Bleacher Report having found my work not to their needing or liking and so they cut me loose, I am left with this blog, for which I am grateful for and even more important, for your support by coming here.
On the occasion of the announcement yesterday that the legendary driver Jeff Gordon is planning to end his NASCAR career at the end of the 2015 season, I felt compelled to write about the two people associated with Gordon who have meant the most to me.
First up, however, I must say a few words about Thursday’s media teleconference with Gordon and team owner Rick Hendrick. From a technical standpoint, it was poorly designed and executed. The setting was bleak. There were numerous technical difficulties at the start of the teleconference that made it difficult for questions to be asked. And the volume on Hendrick’s microphone was so high that I could hear every breath, groan and clearing of the throat he made while Gordon was talking. When Hendrick was finally asked a question, his microphone was so high, it nearly blew out my computer speakers.
And while I admit that it was an emotional day for both men, their mood appeared overly somber and serious, they exuded an uncomfortable feeling that made them appear to have been forced into doing the teleconference. There were rare smiles from either man and both appeared less than enthusiastic about their surroundings. Guys, this was a time to celebrate Gordon’s unbelievable career, not look like you were both on Xanax!
There have been tributes aplenty in the past day or so, all of them praising Gordon as a game changer for NASCAR (he was), a role model for drivers (he is) and much, much more. I’ll not add to those platitudes here. I prefer to watch the man in his final year behind the wheel of a Cup car, making magic in his Chevy race car and once again reaching for that highly prized trophy called the Sprint Cup. In NASCAR, it’s tough to be at the top two years in a row these days. Even the dynamic duo of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson know that. Gordon and his teammates had a slow start to the 2014 season and peaked at the right time. Had it not been for the race at Texas and Brad Keselowski’s questionable bump pass, NASCAR would have crowned Gordon the champion and not my pre-season pick, Kevin Harvick.
Which brings me to Alan Gustafson. Gordon’s crew chief since 2011, Alan has been my friend for much longer. He and I met during his first season as Kyle Busch’s crew chief on the 5 car. He gave Busch a great car every race and the young and brash Busch took full advantage of it, winning races, but just as important, scoring many, many top fives and top 10s. Gustafson taught me a lot about a Sprint Cup car back then. He was the person who took the time to explain how everything worked.
Gustafson became my “go-to” guy for many of my questions. I could always count on an easy to understand answer to any technical question I had. And I also learned over the years about leadership, the Gustafson way. The kind of leadership that kept the 24 team together. At the beginning of the 2014 season, their bad luck had them disappointed, frustrated and questioning themselves. Gustafson knew what to say to them and how to say it. He is truly a leader of men. And he is to be applauded for resurrecting Jeff Gordon’s championship style.
On occasion, Al and I would also talk about each other and our families and life in general. His southern accent is, well, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a NASCAR crew chief. Most of today’s Cup crew chiefs come from the Northeast or Midwest. Not that that’s bad or anything. But NASCAR would do well to keep its southern roots strong and healthy in order to keep the sport moving forward in the 21st century. Which is, another blog for another day.
I have no doubt in my mind that Alan will be able to duplicate the success that 24 team saw last season in 2015. If Gordon remains healthy, he is my pre-season pick for the championship.
Jon Edwards. Most people know his face, but they’re not exactly sure who he is and what he does. His official title is somewhere in the vicinity of publicist. But in reality, he’s one of Gordon’s closest confidantes. They’ve worked together almost since Gordon’s entry into NASCAR. If you’re a member of the media, Edwards is your go-to guy for anything regarding Gordon and an invaluable ally when you needed to connect with the driver of the 24 car.
It was a rare occasion that Edwards would say no to a request. He often will go above and beyond to get the job done, presenting an extremely professional face to the world for anything relating to Jeff Gordon. I am proud to say is also my friend, someone whose first question when seeing me is always “How are you feeling?” And then our conversation turns to Formula One racing or something other than NASCAR. I met Jon when I first came to work in NASCAR. He is always there to answer any question, whether my role was as a journalist, publicist or television producer. Yes, television producer. I had approached Gordon’s father with an idea for a television show for Gordon several years ago. I believed it was perfect for him and I spent quite a bit of time putting it all together. It never did see the light of day. There were issues with logistics and many other reasons. I still believe it is the ideal vehicle for Gordon to segue into once he puts his driving gloves away.
Once you know Jon and how he works, it’s easy to see why he won the 2014 Jim Chapman Award for Excellence in Motorsports PR, a most prestigious honor!
And he’s just a good guy, too.
I don’t profess to know Jeff Gordon the way some journalists do. He was already an established star in the sport when I first began to cover it some 15 years ago and for whatever reason, my relationship with him just remained professional. But, I have always and will continue to admire both his talent and his person. He has done it all, from winning championships and the sport’s biggest races (more than once) to hosting “Saturday Night Live.” I mean, it is very easy to blast out a thousand words of praise and affection for the man. But, I’ll leave that to those who feel they know him better than I.
I prefer to watch Gordon do his thing, alongside the two men in his life who I consider to be among the most important to him. And that I can proudly call my friends.
Thanks Jeff for all those great years of racing. I look forward to your final season.
And thanks Alan and Jon for your friendship. Knowing both of you the way I do makes it easy to see why Jeff Gordon is so successful. He’s got both of you working with him.
Thanks for stopping by. And I promise to write more. Really!