Continued from part 2 Q: How about your first visit here? GORDON: First visit here? Would have been around the same time. I remember the very first time I came here, I don't remember who won the 500 that year, but we didn't come to the 500,...
Continued from part 2
Q: How about your first visit here?
GORDON: First visit here? Would have been around the same time. I remember the very first time I came here, I don't remember who won the 500 that year, but we didn't come to the 500, we came here the day after, and I went to the museum and rode around on the bus. I remember seeing the names of all the drivers and their teams painted on the wall, kind of like they do it now, but they had the fuel tanks still there. I thought that was just the coolest thing. "Oh, man, that's where A.J. Foyt was pitting his car." But it had to be around '81, '82, as well. And then I came here, I think the first race I ever saw here was when Sneva won. I think that was also the same year when was Unser Jr., rookie that year? Yeah.
Q: Robbie said something about a left rear tire was down severely.
GORDON: Right rear.
Q: Were you aware of that? Did you ever feel it at any time?
GORDON: I didn't. It could not I just don't see how it could have possibly been going down before that last caution, you know. I'm wondering. I don't know. Maybe I ran something over after the race was over or something. The car felt normal, as normal as it could be, with the right front crushed to me. I mean, I was pushing. I wasn't loose. If the right rear tire goes down, I would have thought I would be real loose. I don't know. It had air in it when I came off Turn 4, that's all I know, because I made it to the finish, and it didn't do anything weird.
Q: Was there any concern when Jimmie's motor let go?
GORDON: Oh, yeah, definitely. I mean, what's crazy is, you know, all weekend long, I've just been raving to Randy and our engine guys about our horsepower, just how great of a job that they did coming into this race, how the engine just felt so good and everything. When you get out there in the race, every little thing that vibrates, that rattles, you just think the motor's getting ready to explode. Anyway, regardless of whether the other engines have trouble. So when they told me that Jimmie blew up, every little vibration, "Oh, here it goes." I was watching the oil pressure, the water temperature, everything I could because I just knew. And even on those last restarts, I thought I was running out of fuel. When I took the white flag, I went into (Turn) 3, and the motor did something weird. I was like: "Am I blowing up? Am I running out of fuel?" I don't know if it's just my mind playing tricks on me or what, but those things definitely weigh on your mind when those things happen. I didn't realize till Robbie just told me that he spun, and when he spun, you never know, sometimes when you spin, those things can damage the engine. Jimmie is the absolute best at not hitting anything. A lot of times because he lights the rear tires up on the thing, I'm not saying that played a role, but it could have.
Q: Greg Maddux just won his 300th game as a pitcher. These accumulate one by one. Your next up is 70. The next guy on the list is a fellow named Earnhardt. Do those things run through your mind at all?
GORDON: Not until you mention it. You know, I never really pay a lot of close attention to statistics until after the fact. I mean, like I wasn't thinking about it till you mentioned it, then I'll go home tonight and I'll usually get a rundown sheet or something from the race today, then it will start to kind of pop in my mind about how many wins that we've accumulated over the years, how incredible it's been, what a great run. I knew that Earnhardt was the next one in line. That's something that I'd love to accomplish. I'll take it one at a time just like Greg Maddux does. I'm looking forward to going to Watkins Glen this year. What's amazing is every time we win, we do back to back. I can't think of a better place than to come out of here and go to Watkins Glen with an opportunity to do it again.
GORDON: Oh, I'm out there (laughter). I'm out there. You have no idea.
Q: I'm going to go fishing here. I don't know what I'm going to get. When you were running around here in the sprint car in Indiana, did you ever in your mind sit in class and doodle, "I'm A.J. Foyt," anything like that? Were those guys idols of yours, stuff like that?
GORDON: They were, but it was almost to me they were too far out there for me to even comprehend. To me, you know, racing at that level and at this speedway, I mean, that was just something I couldn't even comprehend. To me, if I thought about somebody that I wanted to be or somebody that I wanted to race with, it was Steve Kinser. You know, I was so heavy into sprint cars and the midgets and everything at that time, that's really what was on my mind. In high school, I thought I was going to be a sprint-car driver. I was very happy and content with that. I thought, man, that was the ultimate, is to be on the World of Outlaws circuit and race with those guys week in and week out. Then this thing came around called "Thursday Night Thunder." A guy named Rollie Helmling, who had a midget, and Bob East, who was building them, they just said, "Hey, we got this opportunity. Are you interested?" I can remember being in Brownsburg, Indiana, sitting in that seat, getting a seat fitted in that car on whatever day it was, it was probably like a Friday, and then we went to the Night Before the 500, which was Saturday, went out there and set a new track record, won the race. I'd never even been to the track, never been in the car before. That was on ESPN. From that point on, my whole thought process of where I was headed and what I was doing started to change. Then I started thinking see, I was racing Outlaws, sprint cars stuff, those guys at that time, especially Indianapolis, racing Indy cars, all that stuff, that wasn't even anything that you wanted to do. It wasn't till I got into USAC, that was when I started being around guys that said, "I want to be at Indy one day." I think it's because they were racing pavement. They were racing pavement in sprint cars and midgets. Them pavement drivers, you didn't want to have anything to do with them. It was like separate classes. All I know is that we wanted to race I loved the pavement, I thought it was fun. We started winning. Then we did it on TV. All of a sudden my ca reer took off. All those sprint cars are going, "We didn't even get on TV in those USAC races."
Q: Probably young people look up to you as a hero, given the historic nature of this. You were talking about people that might have been your heroes, now the shoe is sort of on the other foot.
GORDON: Well, I always try to remember in the back of my mind how important first impressions are and how we are role models through our actions and our words. You know, I have to remind myself from time to time of that because I know the first time I met Steve Kinser, I just thought he was the coolest thing ever. And the first time he came to me and congratulated me because I won a race or told me, "Hey, you're going to go on to do good things," to me my world ended right then. Then when I came here, whatever year it was I came to the 500, we were at Carburetion Day, I think Rick Mears was on the pole that year, and I was just a kid sitting on the fence with a T shirt, I think that T shirt had a list of all the different winners on the back of it, who had won four times, he hadn't at that time, and I yelled at him, and he came over and signed that autograph. He like had somebody grab the T shirt, he signed it. Back thin they didn't have Sharpies. I wore out that shirt. My mom would have to (inaudible) every time she washed it. I remember moments like that. As difficult as it is, you know, to be out there with the big crowds that we have here and whether it be qualifying or whatever, hear the screaming, yelling, everything, you want to do something like that for everybody. But that's why I probably focus more on the kids because I know what kind of impression that made on me. I would love to be able to do that for others.
Q: Rick said he has to go to NASCAR. Were you invited to stop by?
GORDON: No. I let him handle those type of things. I heard he was invited. It doesn't surprise me. The funniest thing is the whole time, you know, I mean, one I just enjoyed the moment. I didn't care. I will care tomorrow when we find out what happens, but now I don't. As soon as he walked away from the front straightaway, I was like: "Are we OK? Are we OK? Are we in trouble? Are we in trouble?" Everyone went, "No, it's fine, it's fine." After the adrenaline started to wear off, I was like, "This could be good." You know, I mean, everyone has their sponsorships to take care of. I think that there really needs to be a meeting of the minds to work this out because I don't think it's being worked out in everybody's favor. It just seems like you know, we all need to understand what it's worth to one another, you know, because there's things that are worth an awful lot to our race team, that mean a lot to our race team, and there are things that mean a lot to NASCAR, as well. We need to figure out what those meanings are and what those numbers are and how to come up with an understanding of it. And I told Mike that when I talked to him about Jimmie's fine, let's be creative, let's work together, let's think about how we can accomplish what we all need to accomplish here. I think there's a better way of doing it than what we're doing it. I didn't do that purposely, to go out there and cause that and stir that up, and to make sure that Powerade bottle wasn't on my car. I went out there because that's where I wanted to celebrate with my team. To me, too often these days, as big as the sport has gotten, and I understand that it wouldn't be as big as it is today and we wouldn't be able to, you know, race at this level without all the TV, the media, the fans, the sponsors and all that, but to me we take away so much from these victories when we pull into Victory Lane and all about getting the interview and it's all about putting the hat on, it's all about mentioning the sponsor. I want to just, you know, jump up and dow n and hang out with my guys. I lose so often, and I try to get it back, and today I did.
Q: Talk about the thrill of victory, after Talladega, among other things, there was Sonoma where the crowd genuinely appreciated you. How did that feel to you today? Does that balance the books for Talladega?
GORDON: Absolutely. Even though I did see a couple bottles thrown, there still are diehards out there, it feels amazing. I mean, to go through the whole weekend and hear the applause and the cheers. One, just to see how big the Brickyard 400 is, how the people supported NASCAR here I think is awesome. But the support that I get and our team gets is just incredible. We really don't get that many places. So, you know, I can't think of a better place to have that than to have it here. You know, the fans here are loyal. They're loyal to their Indiana natives and to those adopted. It's just awesome to be able to give them back a great day and a victory like today.
Q: Do you kind of feel like the situation at the end of the race, you're going to be portrayed like Emmo drinking the orange juice instead of the milk in '93?
GORDON: Except I think I've got a lot more people on my side on this one than Emmo did. You know, there are certain traditions that you need to stick with. But, you know, I think what the people watching at home and the people here want to see is they want to see the real, you know, emotions and feelings of what it's like to win a race that's this big. They understand commercialization. They know. They see it all the time. Even though we live in that world, you know, every once in a while it's nice to break the rules, and it's nice to just show that raw emotion. And I think that's what people got. It wasn't about, you know, orchards in Florida, oranges in Brazil, versus milk and dairy. A little bit different.
Q: A little while ago you were talking about your early career, some turning points that you had in your career, where your career could have gone a different direction if something hadn't happened. You developed a relationship with Frank Williams. How much money did Frank offer and how big of a pay cut would it have been? More seriously, if something like that had come up 10 years ago, do you think your career might have taken a completely different direction?
GORDON: Well, there's two ways to answer that. One is that 10 years ago that would have never happened. I think the only reason that there's been any conversations or interest or spark in the media, any of that, is because Formula One wants an American driver, but they don't want an American driver that's unknown. So 10 years ago, it wouldn't have done him much good to put me in there, whether I had the ability to do it or not, because I was really basically an unknown. What they're asking for is a known name that's been brought up doing the exact opposite type of racing that exists in Formula One, and that is going to be next to impossible to pull off. Number two is that Frank and I never got to numbers.
MODERATOR: In closing obviously a hugely historic day, we'd like to congratulate you and the folks at NEXTEL would like to congratulate you on a wonderful day.
GORDON: Yes, it was. Thank you.