When Jeff Gordon's name is brought up in conversations about NASCAR racing, everyone has an opinion. At this point, it seems that there is no middle ground; you're either a fan or you wish he'd finish last. While this Web site is for the fans of Jeff Gordon, it is necessary to look at the "other side" if only for a little while.
The Other Side
Fans that boo Gordon during driver introductions generally are the "traditional" NASCAR fans. They remember the days of Richard, David, Bobby, and Cale; the so-called "glory days" of the sport before it became a commercial enterprise. At a recent event in Bristol, a non-Gordon fan was asked why he disliked the reigning champion. "He walks around like a robot with PR people and commercial endorsements at his fingertips. His faith in God and everything else is just too phony for me. (Dale) Earnhardt, now that's a real driver," Wayne Bloom said. When asked why Earnhardt was "a real driver" compared to Gordon, Bloom said, "He knows what it's like to work for a living. Gordon's been handed everything." Maybe Bloom isn't aware of how Jeff lived in Indiana. How he slept in the pickup truck near the tracks, how he couldn't afford gas for it, how his family depended on his race winnings to live on.
Debunking The Myth
The anti-Gordon fans perceive the driver as Bloom described. However, there's a difference between perception and reality. Yes, he has PR agents. But then again, so does Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, and other top name NASCAR stars. In terms of endorsements, he ranks second to Earnhardt. When Chevrolet filmed its Team Monte Carlo commercial, Earnhardt was chosen as its star. Recently, "The Intimidator" leant his trademark to a line of nutritional products. The sale of which is expected to net an extra $20 million a year for the ninth-grade dropout. In a somewhat comical spoof of Earnhardt's nutritional line, a writer recently said that if you take the pills, "You'll be speaking in half sentences and saying 'Reckon' in no time." Earnhardt portrays himself as a simple fisherman and hunter from Carolina. Of course, he leaves out that he does his fishing off of a 45 foot bass boat and hunts in the far reaches of Texas, New Mexico... wherever he wants to. If Gordon is "phony," then Earnhardt would have to be considered "a myth." Simply put, Dale appeals to the "workingman" fans, Jeff appeals to the workingman's spouse and children, and NASCAR cashes in on it.
Breaking The Stereotype
By his own admission, Jeff Gordon is not the "stereotypical NASCAR driver." He wasn't born in the Carolinas, he didn't come from a famous racing family, and he had little idea of what a stock car was until 1990. However, when his short career is compared to stock car racing's biggest names, he finds a place close to the top. One of the biggest criticisms is that he's "phony." When asked for an instance of him being phony, Bloom just says, "Well, he doesn't know anything about the history of the sport, but he comes in here and takes all our money." Last I checked, a history lesson was not a pre-requisite for strapping into a Winston Cup car. "Taking all of our money." The line makes little sense. Ticket money goes to the track where the event is held. Most of the money that race fans spend benefits the local economy where the race is held. The people that can legitimately say, "He's taking our money," are alcohol and tobacco companies that sponsor the events and put up the prize money.
As Real As It Gets
Gordon recently said that if he tried to be "phony," he'd wear Wranglers and a cowboy hat. But, that's just not him. He's not about to go on a show like "Prime Time Country" on TNN and "do the country thing." (Jeff's appearance at the TNN Music Awards in June 1998 looked out of character to say the least.) His choice of music is on MTV, not TNN. So, it was only natural that he appeared on MTV's Fanatic during the summer of 1998. The NASCAR crowd likes the cowboy boots, Wranglers, and Stetsons favored by more than a few of its drivers. After all, those are the roots of the sport. To the traditionalists, Gordon comes off as an "outsider" in a t-shirt, bluejeans, and Nikes. He didn't run away from home at 16 to get married, then get divorced, like some of his peers. His wife didn't get into a fight outside a local bar like other driver's wives have. But, that's secondary. It's often said that 50% of NASCAR fans became fans only within the past four years. If that's the case, and I have no reason to doubt it, the moonshine days of Junior Johnson are all but forgotten. The era of a "new NASCAR" is well underway. And the leader is Jeff Gordon. Get used to it.
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