Infineon Raceway Teleconference: Jeff Gordon THE MODERATOR: Today's guest is Jeff Gordon driver of the number 24 DuPont Chevrolet. He enters the race this week in Michigan eighth in points. Next weekend, he will be in Sonoma for the...
Infineon Raceway Teleconference: Jeff Gordon
THE MODERATOR: Today's guest is Jeff Gordon driver of the number 24 DuPont Chevrolet. He enters the race this week in Michigan eighth in points. Next weekend, he will be in Sonoma for the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway, and Jeff holds the track record in Sonoma for wins on a road course with five, including three straight from 1998 to 2000.
Jeff, thanks so much for taking a few minutes for the members of the media today.
JG: My pleasure. And I'm looking forward to this weekend and looking forward to Sonoma, that's a special weekend for us. Obviously with our success up there in Sonoma, but also my daughter, Ella, is going to have her one-year birthday and we are going to celebrate up there, so we are really looking forward to it.
Q: Sounds like it's going to be a great weekend for you. The raceway is celebrating its 20th anniversary of NASCAR Cup Racing, which seems hard to believe. How has racing in Sonoma changed over the years for you, and what are your most memorable moments?
JG: Well, the first time coming out there, my first experience on that road course in a Cup car was certainly an experience I'd like to put behind me. You know, I think I was in the tire wall and off the track, you know, more than I was on the track. But you know, we seemed to learn fast and really came geared up the next couple years and start to get ourselves in a position to start being competitive out there.
One of my fondest memories is my second or third year in Sonoma and I was running third to Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin. And watching those guys do battle, and of course that was the old configuration of the track.
So that's probably the biggest change is the configuration of the track, and I think the fans get to see more racing now with the configuration and the different challenges that the new track -- that come with that.
Q: From a personal standpoint, you mentioned your daughter's birthday; and two years ago, wasn't Sonoma the place where you announced your engagement?
JG: Yeah, Sonoma is a special place for me, obviously being from Vallejo and having a lot of family and friends, unfortunately with our hectic schedule I don't get to see often enough.
So for years, we have always done some type of an event on Saturday in the Napa valley and brought our friends and family together, as well as some of my teammates and other friends in racing.
Then, two years ago, like you mentioned, we announced our engagement between Ingrid and myself and last year celebrated her (Ella's) birth. Unfortunately I had to leave New York to get to Sonoma shortly after she was born, but still a very special, special weekend and now we get to celebrate with everybody together this coming weekend, or next weekend.
Q: Would you elaborate more on how you really progressed as far as you could go and as far as you could go on road courses? You were always a left-turn person before that.
JG: Yeah, I had a little bit of experience with go-karts, but no shifting or anything like that. And in the go-karts when we did the road racing, did fairly well. Went to the IKF Nationals, I want to say it was in the early '80s in a go-kart and finished fourth overall, so that was a big deal.
I had never driven a big car on a road course and even on all of the years I grew up in Vallejo and had never seen the Sonoma racetrack.
So, the first time was an eye-opening experience and not the best, but I think the hard work that the team put in, I went to several different road racing schools from Skip Barber to Bob Bondurant and tried to hone my skills in turning right and shifting and downshifting and there's a lot of heel-toe they teach at those schools and I never was big on heel-toe. So, you still had to transfer what we do in the race car completely different from what you learned at the school.
But, it's still a great experience. I actually went to Skip Barber and Jim Russell at Sonoma, and that probably just helped teach me what the track was all about, and then from there it was all about the team just getting the transmission, the braking, and allowing me to just focus on the little areas of braking and turning in the apexes and where to find the speed.
Q: Certainly worked for you.
JG: They certainly have. We've had a lot of success there and it's been a lot of fun, and hopefully we can continue that coming up.
Q: I want to know about the Car of Tomorrow. Last year was the first time that you raced at Infineon and what were the differences, and what new things did you have to deal with that?
JG: Well, a lot of it is just you can't carry the corner speed with this car that you could the old car. We're on bump stops in the front, so the front suspension reacts quite a bit different, so you've got to be real careful with how you brake, and there's a lot of corners at Sonoma like on the front straightaway going up to Turn 1 where you're braking and turning at the same time, and this car, you really have to be careful about loading one corner right-front or left-front too abruptly under the braking zones.
In the straight braking zones, like into the final turn, I don't know if it's 11 or 12 or whichever it is, but it's fantastic. It really gets into that corner good. Of course you have that tight hairpin (Turn 11) and the car really doesn't want to rotate through there. So, you get a lot of wheel spin, just a lot less grip and I think you just have to be a little more patient with this car than you did with the old car.
Q: I interviewed Carl Edwards after he took a Blue Angels ride, and I think Carl flies airplanes; are you a pilot?
JG: I'm not a pilot. Obviously, I do a lot of flying but not up in the cockpit. I enjoy my time trying to get work done or rest in the back of the plane, and I have flown with the Blue Angels, and I can honestly say that after that experience, it pretty much encouraged me even more to not be a pilot.
Q: Had an opposite effect?
JG: It did. It did. I think if I would ever want to fly anything, I would want to fly a helicopter because I think they are cool and they can land just about anywhere. But there's a lot of work that goes into it and especially nowadays, being a dad, I just don't have the time to put in the training as well as the schooling that it takes to do it well.
Q: A lot of NASCAR guys fly, I know that, so you're not into that yet?
JG: No. I don't know if I ever will be. It's just one of those things. I enjoy traveling. I enjoy experiencing new places, but as far as me being the one to fly to get us there, just haven't -- I haven't gotten the bug.
Q: Is fatherhood pretty much everything you expected it to be?
JG: I don't know if you really know what to expect. You know, I think that the whole thing is overwhelming from the moment that you see your first sonogram, I think that it's just an experience that you can't describe until you go through it, and then all of a sudden when the baby is born, you know, that emotion and that feeling that you get, responsibility and being proud and excited, you know, just there are not words that really describe it. And then you sort of get initiated into a club. It's an elite club and only people who are parents can understand it and are a part of it, and it's very special. It's a lot of hard work.
I have a whole new appreciation for my parents and all of the parents that are out there because even the luxuries that I'm able to have, it is one of the toughest things. It's the toughest thing that I have ever been a part of, but at the same time, the most gratifying and exciting thing I've ever been a part of.
Q: How did Dale Earnhardt Sr. feel about road course racing at Sonoma? I guess it took awhile for him to warm up to it. Was he a fan?
JG: The thing that stands out the most to me with Dale Sr. at a road course is after he crashed, I think it was at Talladega, and we went to Watkins Glen and he sat on the pole. I think all of us were not only shocked that he came through this horrific crash and was able to be out there on the track, but then he went out there and sat on the pole. I think it was a challenge to him.
I think while road racing was not what he was best at, I think that he was such a great racecar driver that any time there was a challenge, that he had to improve on, at any type of track, and I think Sonoma was definitely one of those tracks. He pushed hard to make those improvements and to excel at it, and I think anything he put his mind to, he pretty much did excel at it.
Q: Do you think Dale Jr. has that same attitude as far as it being a challenge; he's getting a little better each year. Do you think he looks at it from the same standpoint?
JG: Absolutely. I sense the same thing with him. I think he feels like it not a natural thing that he's just naturally good at, but he wants to be good at it and he's working hard at it, and it's a total team effort. And I think that, you know, with our success that we've had in the past, I think that gives him a little bit more confidence and then he's working hard to hone his skills to bring that success along for himself, as well.
Q: Do you ever get used to being booed? How do you cope with that?
JG: I mean, I guess I have gotten adjusted to it. Certainly if I could go out and talk individually to every one of those fans that boos me and try to sway them, I would do it. But I also know that controversy and that rivalry among the fans has been a positive thing for me. It been a positive thing for the sport. And I think it's sort of the same thing for Kyle. I think it's been a very positive thing for him, and you can't control how people react to you. You can't control whether they are booing or cheering and whether they are a fan or not. All you can do is control what you are doing out there on the racetrack and try to do your best.
You've got to give him credit for what he's doing out there on the racetrack and let whatever happens, the reaction you get off the track or from the fans sort of take care of itself.
Q: Kyle has been saying a lot lately, because he's asked a lot about this lately, about how he doesn't really care what people think about him. Isn't it human nature that you are going to care at some level?
JG: Yeah, I think that's just a way to try to take some of that pressure and heat off. I mean, everybody -- I've never met anybody that doesn't truly care about how people look at them or think of them. I think more so with your peers than strangers or people who you don't really know, but are following the sport.
I think that you want everybody to like you, but I think that by saying you don't care, it's probably not true, and I think over time, you know, one of the things that I can personally say through my experiences is that when I was younger and coming up in the sport, how to handle yourself through those types of situations is tough, because you're still trying to find out who you are, what you're about, what your real goals are, what matters most to you, and then you're going through these experiences that are just, you know, huge and you don't always know how to react, what to say, what not to say.
And it comes through time. I think all of us experience that through life. And I'm still experiencing it, but I'm sure he's going through a lot of that right now, as well.
Continued from part 2