CHARLOTTE, N.C.-- “A Whole New World” appropriately was the No. 1 song on the 1992 pop charts the year Jeff Gordon came on the NASCAR Cup Series scene in the rainbow-colored Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet and took the motorsports world by storm.
But the irony goes beyond the song title. Gordon’s first Cup Series start was seven-time champion “King” Richard Petty’s final Cup Series start at the season finale in Atlanta in 1992. The torch seemed to be passed that day as Gordon went on to accumulate four championships in his first nine full seasons and now is third on the all-time win list with 85 career victories. David Pearson is second with 105, and Petty reigns with a record 200 wins.
Prior to Gordon’s entry, modern-era NASCAR champions were mostly veteran drivers with last names such as Earnhardt and Waltrip who competed at racetracks positioned primarily in the Southeast.
Gordon, a 21-year-old Vallejo, Calif., native who cut his teeth in open-wheel short track racing, achieved great success quickly and grew with the sport as world-class race facilities started to spring up in large markets across the country and network television broadcast contracts brought NASCAR live into more homes than ever.
Both the sport and Gordon surged in popularity.Even the sponsorship was revolutionary at the time. DuPont, a global Fortune 500 company best known for brands such as DuPont™ Kevlar®, Nomex®, Teflon® and Tyvek®, took a chance on a young, unproven rookie driver to showcase its automotive finishes in brilliant fashion and entertain tens of thousands of customers at race events annually.
And during nearly 20 years of sponsorship, Gordon has been recognized by DuPont top management, the employee population, DuPont brands, business units, and functional groups as a valuable corporate asset and spokesman.
“Jeff Gordon has been the ideal ambassador for the DuPont brand for nearly two decades,” said Scott Coleman, chief marketing and sales officer for DuPont. “He is a consummate professional and a true champion both on and off the track.
“And Hendrick Motorsports, which holds the NASCAR Cup Series title for 10 of the last 17 seasons, is a leader in engineering, innovation and safety employing the best talent in the industry. Those qualities mirror those of DuPont -- a leader in science, innovation and safety with world-class employees.”
Fast forward to 2012 -- Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports and DuPont are now celebrating their 20th full season together -- the longest currently running driver/owner/sponsor partnership in NASCAR. And although “veteran” Gordon now has to keep up with young talented drivers who break records on a regular basis --- the trio is still winning races and contending for championships.
“If anybody would have told me when I was a teenager living in Indiana racing open wheel sprint cars and midgets that not only would I be racing at this level, but having the success -- and the longevity of success -- that we have had, I would not have believed them,” Gordon said. “If Rick Hendrick and DuPont didn’t take that chance on me almost 20 years ago, I honestly don’t know if I’d be where I am today.
“I’m very fortunate to have an incredible sponsor like DuPont that has invested so much in me and this No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team. To stick with one driver and one team through all the highs and lows, and to still be here with us today celebrating our 20th full season, is really incredible.
“I’m looking forward to taking this special DuPont 20 Years paint scheme to Victory Lane this year to thank all of the amazing DuPont employees and customers who I’ve come to know like family and who have supported me loyally over the past two decades.”