1990: Switching Gears

Season Recap

Jeff Gordon was a sprint car phenom in 1990. At the age of 19, he won the USAC Midget championship. Jeff ran 21 USAC Midget Car races. He was the fastest qualifier 10 times, won nine races and became the youngest Midget class champion ever. His stepfather suggested that Jeff go to Rockingham, North Carolina and attend the Buck Baker driving school. Not for sprint cars, but NASCAR stock cars. ESPN taped a story about Jeff's experience there and in return, Baker taught Gordon free of charge. It was supposed to be a diversion. Little did anyone realize but it would be the start of a career altering experience.

After taking his first lap in a stock car, Jeff realized that those were the cars he wanted to race... as long as he was racing. The spint car racer from Indiana took to the heavier stock car so naturally that Hugh Connerty wanted to sign him for his Busch Grand National car after watching him turn laps at the driving school.

After receiving the offer to drive Connerty's #67 Outback Steakhouse Pontiac, Gordon called his step-father John Bickford in Indiana. "Sell everything. We're going stock car racing," Gordon told Bickford. Connerty enlisted the help of Andy Petree who made a phone call that would alter the face of stock car racing forever. Petree called a mechanic from New Jersey to help guide the young driver. The mechanic was Ray Evernham. One month before his Busch series debut, Gordon met Evernham for the first time in Charlotte. The sight of the slender 19-year-old may have had Evernham questioning the visit. Gordon opened the briefcase he was carrying and Evernham caught a glipse of the contents: a cell phone, a Nintendo GameBoy, and a racing magazine. This was the driver he was going to help rewrite the record books? Whatever doubts Evernham had about Gordon were quickly erased after a track test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Gordon left no doubt in anyone's mind that he could handle stock cars.

His first Busch race came on October 20, 1990 at Rockingham. Gordon turned the second fastest lap during qualifying and started on the outside of the front row. However, a wreck on lap 33 ended his day. He was credited with a 39th place finish-- hardly the kind of stock car debut which would signal future greatness.

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