JACKIE STEWART THINKS GORDON COULD BE MORE THAN FLASH IN F1 PAN Formula One legend gives thumbs-up to construction at Speedway during visit INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 16, 1999 -- Formula One legend Jackie Stewart says he would "love to" see ...
JACKIE STEWART THINKS GORDON COULD BE MORE THAN FLASH IN F1 PAN Formula One legend gives thumbs-up to construction at Speedway during visit
INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 16, 1999 -- Formula One legend Jackie Stewart says he would "love to" see American auto racing superstar Jeff Gordon join the Grand Prix circuit in time for next year's inaugural United States Grand Prix race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stewart, three-time F1 World Champion and now an F1 team owner, took a tour Feb. 16 of the construction underway at the Speedway in preparation for the return of the U.S. Grand Prix to America for the first time since 1991. He gave a thumbs-up to what he saw. And he did likewise to Gordon, who Sunday won his second Daytona 500 NASCAR Winston Cup race and picked up prize and bonus money totaling $2.17 million. Gordon also was the first winner as well as first two-time winner of the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. "He's clearly an enormously talented driver," said Stewart, who was named rookie of the year at the 1966 Indianapolis 500 and still retains that trophy in his office in Scotland. "I noticed he became ESPN's driver of the year last night. He's an attractive young man, he behaves very well, he presents himself, he presents the sport well. More than anything else, he's a hell of a driver." But Stewart admitted it would be very difficult to lure Gordon away from NASCAR. "I think unfortunately Jeff Gordon is making so much money now in his own little area that it would be difficult for him to see the logic in leaving that guaranteed marketplace and going into Formula One racing," Stewart said. Stewart, whose Stewart-Ford Grand Prix team will field drivers Johnny Herbert of England and Rubens Barrichello of Brazil, noted that over the years the truly great drivers are able to make the transition, pointing to A.J. Foyt, who teamed with Dan Gurney to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Gurney and Mario Andretti in F1. In the reverse, Stewart, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and other F1 standouts did well at Indy. "The really good drivers have been able to integrate into whatever challenges that are there," he said. Don't think for a moment that Stewart is jumping on Gordon's bandwagon now that he has become America's premier stock-car driver. The Scotsman saw Gordon's potential long ago and tried to hire him. "I tried to get Jeff Gordon to drive one of our team cars in Paul Stewart Racing, another team we have," he said. "I spoke to him when he was living here (in Pittsboro, Ind., not far from the Speedway). I phoned him up once and said, 'Will you come over?' We were struggling to get an American sponsor. I must have been the first of the international bunch to see the potential of him. And he would have loved to have done it." But it never happened because there wasn't an American company willing to cough up the $100,000 in sponsorship funding to send Gordon to Europe. Now U.S. firms are drooling over the chance to throw big dollars his way. "Nobody knew the name in those days," Stewart said. Now Jackie's dream is to see Gordon someday sitting in an F1 car and participating in a test. He made just such an offer when he spoke to him several months ago. Of course, Gordon drives a Chevrolet. Gordon actually started his NASCAR career driving a Ford, but Gordon accepted an offer from the Hendrick Motorsports GM team and, as they say, the rest is continuing history. Still, Stewart said he'd love to see an American driver in Formula One. He was impressed with another Stewart -- Tony -- and the way he placed his Joe Gibbs car on the front row next to Gordon in his first attempt at the country's most prominent stock-car race. Tony Stewart moved over to NASCAR Winston Cup racing after driving three years in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League and winning the championship in 1997. "An American driver is just so important," said Jackie Stewart, who did commentary for 15 years on the Indy 500 telecast. "As important as a very, very, very good woman driver. I'd like to see that." Stewart said the driver who makes the crossover to F1 must be a top competitor, because the seats in F1 racing are limited and competition for them is coming from around the globe. He said that in today's racing world, due to the amount of testing along with the number of races, it would be impossible for a driver to jump back and forth the way Mario Andretti did in the 1970s when he won his World Championship. Stewart estimates that 1997 World Champion Michael Schumacher is paid $40 million a year. Gordon's take on salary and sale of souvenirs is tremendous, but it may not approach that magnitude. Also, Gordon's popularity is tremendous yet he still must share it with athletes of many sports. In Europe, Ferrari driver Schumacher is a national idol in both Italy, where his team is based, and Germany, his homeland, and a superstar in other countries around the world. Only soccer players in some countries can compete with him in recognition status. "He needs 12 security people wherever he goes," Stewart said. Gordon would have to move to Europe if he were to switch to F1. Michael Andretti tried to commute from his Nazareth, Pa., home and it didn't work. These are the varied difficulties Gordon would face in making a move to F1. So it probably would come down to: Does he want to become known as the greatest NASCAR champion ever or have World Champion included in his resume? Stewart hopes for the latter.