CONCORD, N.C. – Over a NASCAR Cup Series career spanning more than two decades, through different cars, rules and crew chiefs, Jeff Gordon kept winning.
After 93 wins and four championships, Gordon is set to enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the class of 2019.
This week, his crew chiefs are looking back on their time with the iconic competitor and what it was like to work with the driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet.
Ray Evernham – a NASCAR Hall of Famer himself – served as the No. 24 team’s crew chief from Gordon’s Cup Series debut in the final race of the 1992 season through 1999, winning three championships along the way. In all, Evernham and Gordon found Victory Lane a series-leading 47 times together in the 1990s, including two Daytona 500s and two Brickyard 400s.
Brian Whitesell won two races as Gordon’s crew chief for the final seven events of the 1999 season.
Robbie Loomis was Gordon’s crew chief from 2000 through 2005, and the duo accumulated 23 wins – and the 2001 Cup Series championship.
Steve Letarte’s first NASCAR Cup Series crew chief position came with Gordon as his driver. He began with the final 10 races of the 2005 season and continued with Gordon through the 2010 season, earning 10 wins in that span.
Alan Gustafson was Gordon's crew chief from the 2011 campaign through 2015, Gordon's last full-time Cup Series season. Together, they amassed 11 wins.
All five men shared some of their memories of their time with Gordon below.
What was it like as a crew chief to have Jeff Gordon as your driver?
“Very intimidating and also very blessed. You knew you had the driver, and you had the tools and the commitment from the owner at the top. In all my years of racing it was the only time that I knew, for those six years that I worked there, if we didn’t win the championship, I felt like, for myself, personally, I’d had a failed season.”
“Jeff Gordon, from the time I met him when he was like 18 years old, outside the car he was a kid. He did his breakdancing and he was just running around, you had to keep track of him. But inside the car, he was always mature and gave good feedback. I honestly felt for as young as we all were, he did a good job becoming the leader of that team.”
“I would say the simplest answer to having Jeff Gordon as a driver is there was not a single race, a single weekend or a single plane we got on to go to the racetrack where you didn’t think you could win.”
What made him so great?
“When the pressure got on, he just became a whole other person and was able to somehow get it done. He could do incredible things.”
“When I was around Jeff or Richard Petty, those guys really instilled so much confidence in you that you’re able to do things beyond your own imagination. They pull it out of you. He always was pointing you in the right direction. The good lord gave me two ears to listen, and I better use both of them. I tell people, as I’ve gotten away from the fumes and noise of the sport, I’ve got even a greater appreciation for what Jeff did.”
“The quantity of wins speaks for itself. Variety of cars, variety of years, variety of situations – the mental toughness and just his ability to close the deal.”
Are there any moments that stick with you from your time with him?
“The best advice he ever gave me that I wasn’t smart enough to listen to was, the day I became his crew chief I stood in his office and he explained that he was just one of the team, he was no more and no less. His job was to drive and it was my job to hold him to the same standard and accountability as everyone on the race team. I would love to tell you that’s exactly what I did, but as a 25-year-old kid, I was getting this from my mentor. I tried hard, but I just couldn’t. He was my idol, he was my mentor, he had taught me so much. The fact that someone of his level – he could’ve had any crew chief, he could’ve made any decision he wanted – the fact that he gave me a chance and the fact that he gave me that advice just shows what kind of guy he is.”
“When we went to the Brickyard (in 1994), it was a new book for everybody – nobody had notes. It’s a very, very technical track. And his driving style and ability, that day, it was one of those ones that made a statement that on equal ground, he was as good as anybody out there. And then obviously to win the first race at the Brickyard was just amazing. I will never forget that crowd of people – there were, what, 350,000 people there? It was incredible. And those people, when he took the checkered flag, just the noise of the crowd from that day is something I won’t forget.”
“We’ve gone through tons of things together. There’s not just one thing that stands out in my head – it’s just a lot of good memories.”
How deserving is he of the Hall of Fame honor?
“Not only is he deserving of the Hall of Fame, he was an absolute must first-ballot. He is on a very, very short list of people that are much bigger than whatever role they had. Jeff Gordon as a race car driver was spectacular, as a spokesman for NASCAR was spectacular. I can’t think of a single thing he did without putting the sport first. Even to this day, as a commentator, everyone sees the respect he has for what NASCAR is and was and can be. To be that unselfish for that long is pretty amazing.”
“Next to Richard Petty, he’s the most deserving guy there is to be in the Hall of Fame. So, I’m glad he’s in there and I’m super happy for him.”
“As much credit as he gets, I think most people still don’t realize how great of a driver he was for how long. When I look at, certainly the growth of the sport, but when I look at what he was able to do inside that car, I just hope that people give him the credit that he deserves with the talent that he had.”
What does it mean to you to have been part of his Hall of Fame career?
“It’s very humbling for me. I was like a grain of sand on the beach and Jeff had the power and fury of the ocean and the waves. To be able to say that I was a small part of it, that was really nice. But, I think the greatest part I love about it is I got to watch Jeff develop into Jeff Gordon the person beyond just the race champion. I think I was in a really special, sweet window there of working with him, kind of being a friend. Looking back on it, it was an incredible journey.”
“It was the biggest break in my entire life when Jeff allowed me to be his crew chief. I owe a tremendous amount to him on and off the racetrack. I absolutely take so much pride in the races that Jeff and I were together. I was the tire guy, the car chief, the mechanic, pit crew member, crew chief – I kind of had the chance to do everything on his race team. I’m very proud of all those races we had together. More than anything I’m just going to sit in the audience and watch a guy that is so deserving get the accolades he deserves. It was a great ride.”
“I look back at that time and it was a great period in my career. He was a lot of fun to work with and we’re great friends. Our working relationship was really good and we accomplished some good things together.”