INDIANAPOLIS (July 26, 2011) – Jeff Gordon grew up in the shadows -- and in awe -- of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Four Brickyard 400 victories, 17 races and 440 laps led later, the historic speedway still gives him a "whoa" moment during each visit to the 2.5-mile track.
As a teenager, the 84-time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner lived in nearby Pittsboro with a dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500. That dream ended with his shift from open-wheeled cars to stock cars in the early 1990's, but the possibility of winning on the hallowed grounds returned in 1994.
"I think NASCAR had a test session here in 1992 or 1993, and I was bummed that I didn't get the chance to participate in it," said the 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2004 winner of this event. "When I finally got the chance to drive down the front straightaway, it was like 'whoa.' And then to win the inaugural race? Unbelievable.
"It's still like that for me -- just an incredible feeling driving here. But it also always takes me a few laps to get up to speed each year. The first time you drive off into (Turn) 1, it's like 'whoa, I can't make this corner.' Then you realize you let off (the accelerator) way too early."
Other 'whoa' moments for Gordon have occurred off the track.
"Through the Drive To End Hunger program, it's really opened my eyes to the more than 6 million older Americans that face hunger each day," Gordon said. "But we've been able to provide more than 2.6 million meals to local food banks -- and we'll make another donation in this market."
Last week during the final offweek of the 2011 season, Gordon witnessed "too many" 'whoa' moments during his visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of the Lead Group of the Clinton Global Initiative. His philanthropic work continues this week with the 10th annual Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation "Bowling Ball" that benefits Riley Hospital for Children.
On Friday, attention turns back to the track where the four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion begins his quest to secure win number five at Indianapolis. While four -- and the elusive five -- has always been a magical number of wins at the speedway, Gordon believes it should be discussed in context.
"I don't think what I've done should ever be compared to what A.J. Foyt or Al Unser or Rick Mears did here with their four Indianapolis 500 victories," said Gordon, who also has nine top-five finishes, 13 top-10s and three poles -- each the most among Sprint Cup drivers -- in 17 starts here.
"And I don't think Michael Schumacher's five wins (in Formula 1) should be compared either. They are all completely different disciplines -- sometimes on a completely different track."