Feature Story

A Week With Jeff Gordon

By Brian Holly

Most race fans only see Jeff Gordon on Sunday afternoons. Usually a quick interview before the race and, if he wins, a jubilant interview after the race. His schedule is often packed with sponsor appearances, business meetings, testing sessions, autograph appearances, and more. Believe me... much, much more. What follows is a "typical week" for the reigning Winston Cup champion. Of course, no two weeks are alike since he's never doing the same thing each day. The word "usually" appears throughout the story. But, in reality, there is no typical week for Jeff Gordon. There's always something new in store each week.

Ready to get started? Put on your running shoes and crank up the radio (and don't play any country music!), the pace is about to pick up.

Sunday afternoon- At the race track

Our story begins on a Sunday afternoon at Anytrack, USA. When the checkered flag falls, the pace of life picks up. For four hours, Gordon was in the drivers seat of the DuPont Chevrolet. But after he exits the car, life becomes a whirlwind. If he wins the race, victory lane is carefully orchestrated. The first interview goes to the TV station that broadcast the event. The second interview goes to MRN. After that, it's time to do the hat dance. Each sponsors hat is worn for a photo. From there, he's whisked to an interview room where the media asks him anything and everything about the race.

Kymberly O'Brien from Performance PR Plus is his media representative. A more accurate description might be stage manager. She schedules his appearances, interviews, and the like. She told Winston Cup Illustrated that, "(Jeff) is easy to work with. We have a trust between us where, if I schedule something, he knows it's a good thing and not wasting his time." As the hottest property in motorsports, Gordon gets tons of requests for appearances and interviews. Not all can be fulfilled. "The toughest part of my job is trying to accomodate. The calls are more into my office when he wins, but his schedule is set so far in advance," O'Brien said.

In front of a camera, Gordon seems at ease. It wasn't always like that. Stock Car Racing Magazine recently told of time when he was eight years old, his stepfather would admonish him for stuttering through an interview. Since that time, he's polished his act and is a master at the craft. Whether he wins or not, there are interviews to be done. Once the media session is over, he heads back into the DuPont hauler to change clothes and make a quick exit from the track.

The Lear 35 jet might be one of Jeff's best purchases. Not so much for leisure but out of necessity. At the airport, autographs will be signed. That's a common theme throughout the week.

The "Off" Day- Monday

The day can start with a few radio interviews from home but it's usually a day for mundane tasks such as laundry and working out with his personal trainer. There might be a business meeting with JG Inc. thrown in but public appearances are usually kept to a minimum.

Daily Grind

Tuesdays could be a test session but this is usually the day that Jeff heads over to the Hendrick Motorsports complex. He'll give the team input about what happened in the last race and will usually spring for the lunch bill. He told Victor Lee of Gospelcom.com, "It's good for the morale of the guys for me to come over and take them to lunch, and go around and see them."

The afternoon could be dedicated to an appearance. DuPont, Quaker State, and Pepsi have contracts with the champion for personal appearances. It could be anywhere in the country. Wherever the plane lands, Gordon gets out and signs autographs. A police escort is "usually" provided to get to the sponsor function or appearance. Then it's usually a "meet and greet" with area staff, sign more autographs, thank everyone for coming out, and return to the airport. Another jet ride home into the night.

Like Tuesday, Wednesday could also be a test session at a NASCAR track or at Greenville Speedway in South Carolina. More than likely it's more media appearances/interviews. The Lear jet is likely used for an appearance somewhere.

Thursday is travel day. Bags are packed for the racing weekend ahead. An interview might be schedule and he might make an appearance near the city where the race is being held. More autographs are signed. That's a constant. Jeff and Brooke usually get to the city of the race in the early evening and go to dinner. "Sometimes we'll go to a movie if it's not too late," he told Lee.

End of the Week

Friday is the day he becomes a race car driver again. First practice is usually around 11 am. The opening lap is usually a shakedown run at half speed to make sure the fenders aren't rubbing and the car is operating normally. He's in constant communication with crew chief Ray Evernham throughout the practice session. In mid-afternoon, qualifying begins. If you've seen qualifying on TV, you know how that goes. Talk to Dr. Punch, run the lap, talk to Dr. Punch again. If he gets the pole position, there's a press conference. But, it's usually just a quick MRN interview and some print media stuff. Friday night could be another sponsor appearance in the race city. It could also be one of the six fan club meetings throughout the racing season. The night is spent in the motorhome at the track.

Saturday- Prep Day

Early morning practice starts at 9:30 am. Don't be late!

Walking through the garage area, more autographs are signed. After practice, he'll meet with Evernham to discuss how the car is running. A few impromptu interviews will likely spring up. In the early afternoon, he might meet with children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the track. This isn't the easiest thing for athletes to do but Gordon handles it exceptionally well, smiling throughout and making the kids feel like the most important people in the world. The late afternoon is the final practice session. A meeting with Evernham usually follows. In the evening, Jeff and Brooke might attend a prayer service put on by Motor Racing Outreach.

Sunday- Race Day

Alarm clock rings and the frenzy begins. First stop is the DuPont hospitality tent. A Pepsi "meet and greet" might be thrown in. The Motor Racing Outreach chapel service and the drivers meeting are held. On pit road, the 700 horsepower chariot awaits. Still signing autographs, Gordon is asked to do an interview for the TV network covering the race. He obliges. As race time approaches, Jeff and Brooke engage in a brief prayer on pit road with Max Helton from Motor Racing Outreach. After that, he'll strap into the car. A note awaits on the steering wheel. Brooke writes down a Scripture for the steering wheel on the car. The theme of the message usually depends on the track. If it could be a dangerous afternoon (like Talladega) it might be for safety. At others, it might be for patience.

The command is given to fire the engines and the green flag waves. The race is on. In four hours, Gordon will exit the car and begin yet another week of autographs, interviews, and appearances.

In His Own Words

"I think the answer is you just do the best job you can. You work hard on and off the race track, and I think good things come to people who dedicate their lives to it and work hard at it. I really don't want to hide from (the limelight) because I feel like that's just part of my job." (from Winston Cup Illustrated)

The Big Picture

The demands on a drivers time away from the track is greater now than it has been in the history of motorsports. Not just at the track but away from it also. In every appearance and interview, Jeff Gordon is representing a lot of things. He's representing DuPont Automotive Finishes, Pepsi, Quaker State, Slick 50, GMAC, Pedigree (and other sponsors I'll forget to mention). In addition to his sponsors, he's representing Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, and the sport of NASCAR racing. But, more than that, he's representing himself, his family, and a higher power. In every facet, he performs like a champion. "When you've got God in your life, it's so much easier to deal with a lot of the pressures and situations because when the demands come down on you, it's so easy to just pray about it and let God worry about it." (WCI)

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