Indy Legends welcome Gordon

Indy Legends Welcome Gordon as Newest Member of Elite Club INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004 -- Move over A.J., Big Al and Rick. There's a new member of very select "Four Victories Club" at Indy. Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., a...

Indy Legends Welcome Gordon as Newest Member of Elite Club

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004 -- Move over A.J., Big Al and Rick. There's a new member of very select "Four Victories Club" at Indy.

Jeff Gordon, who grew up in Pittsboro, Ind., a few miles west of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, earned his fourth Brickyard 400 NASCAR victory Aug. 8 at the same track where A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears won the Indianapolis 500 four times each.

Gordon and his No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet dominated the caution-slowed race, leading 124 of 161 laps and averaging 115.037 mph. Then he said he could not compare his four stock-car victories to those of the three Hall of Famers of open-wheel racing.

"I'm very proud to be a four-time winner," he said. "I can't believe it, really."

When he led during the race, Gordon said thoughts of becoming a four-time Brickyard champion entered his mind. He forced them out to keep his focus. With three laps to go, again those thoughts began to get to him.

"I had to shake those off, too," he said.

Gordon was humble in victory, but he was saluted by some other racing legends for his incredible skill at the wheel of a race car and his remarkable feat of winning four times at Indy in just 11 starts.

"He's probably as good as any who have been here, said Dale Jarrett, a two-time Brickyard winner who chased Gordon across the finish line in second place.

Mears watched the race on television in his Florida home. Unser didn't watch the watch the race out in his New Mexico ranch. Foyt was trackside in his Turn 2 suite but departed early to fly back to his south Texas ranch.

"He said he's the man to beat," said Anne Fornoro, Foyt's public relations representative said, "the way he gets through Turn 2. Unless something breaks, no one would touch him."

Foyt was the first to win four races, in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977.

Both Mears and Unser welcomed Gordon into their private club with open arms.

"I think it's great," Mears said. "The more, the merrier.

"He's earned everything he got. He was hooked up. They did their homework. He's a talented driver. I spoke to Roger Penske about him when he drove midgets. He's very talented. He can be as good as anyone who drove."

Unser said: "The man is a fantastic race car driver. He has the talent, the ability, and he makes it happen. They changed people (crew members) a few years ago, and he still comes up and wins."

Then there are the words from Richard Petty, the retired "King" of stock car racing. He won 200 races during his career. Gordon picked up his 69th victory at Indy and with one more victory will tie the great Dale Earnhardt at 70.

"He's good," Petty said. "He's like anybody else. He's got really, really good equipment and is a really talented man to get all of it out of it. He just makes it work. He's the right man for the right time against what he's running against.

"There's been different people come through at different times, and he just happens to be on the scale right now that he's as good as anybody."

Would Petty have liked to have raced against Gordon?

"It would have been a whole different world," Petty said. "It's a different world now. I probably couldn't drive these cars as good as he could, and he definitely couldn't drive the cars without power steering and all that stuff we had. It's like comparing apples and oranges."

As the Hendrick Racing team celebrated around the car at the famed Speedway "Yard of Bricks," team manager Brian Whitesell revealed that the victory came as no surprise to the crew.

"He told us about two weeks ago that this was going to happen," he said. "We took the car to Pocono, got it ready and worked on it this weekend. But he took care of the rest. He was switched on. He was ready to win this race, and I'm just thankful we just kept him up there where he could do it.

"He was on. From start to finish, he was beautiful."

Hendrick, who's father and team patriarch, Papa Joe Hendrick, died a couple of weeks ago, said it was hard for a fourth victory to sink in, especially since Gordon hit debris late in the race that he thought ruined any chance for victory.

"When you see the trophies, you look back, you know, you kind of grow up never thinking you'd get to go to Indianapolis," he said. "Jeff, I've seen some phenomenal things he's done at this track. He's just got so much talent. I told him on the radio when he said, 'We're done,' I said, 'I've seen you beat people with two tires, I've seen you beat people with our tires, you the man.'"

Gordon said Jarrett was a gracious man in rating him so highly.

"I think that means a lot coming from a two-time champion of this race," he said.

"I'm blown away with four. I didn't realize how much this really meant to me, to win four."

For Gordon, it all started in Indiana when his stepfather, John Bickford, moved the family from California to central Indiana to be closer to the racing capital of the world. His first racing victory in Indiana came at the Big Z quarter-midget track on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

What Gordon said was the neatest thing about that victory was that the winner was paid money. He ran in two classes, won both and collected $60.

About that same time, he made his first visit to the Speedway the day after the Indianapolis 500.

"I thought that was just the coolest thing," he said. 'Oh, man, that's where A.J. Foyt was his pitting his car.'"

Now he belongs to Foyt's Four-Victory Club, and some 12-year-old now will come to the Speedway and say, 'Oh, man, that's where Jeff Gordon was pitting his car."

-ims-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Richard Petty , Roger Penske , A.J. Foyt , Al Unser