CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Friday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the class of 2019 was officially inducted, and Jeff Gordon closed out the evening.
He did so with a heartfelt speech in which he thanked the many people who helped him reach that stage, including fellow Hall of Famers Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and his former crew chief Ray Evernham.
“There’s really no amount of time that would be enough to thank everyone who has helped me get here to this stage tonight,” Gordon said. “But timing is exactly what did get me here tonight.”
He went on to share a handful of moments where fortunate timing helped lead him down the path to the Hall of Fame. One in particular came on a fateful day in March 1992, when Hendrick just so happened to be in attendance to watch Gordon win at Atlanta.
“So, there it was, all the hard work, seizing the moment as often as I possibly could in every good car I had the chance to drive, hoping and wishing that the right person or car owner saw enough in me to take a chance,” Gordon recalled. “And we all know who that was – Rick Hendrick.”
“You’re a great man,” he said of Hendrick. “You’ve been far more than just a team owner to me. You’ve constantly set the bar to make everyone around you want to be a better person at their job, a better person in every walk of life, and that includes me. I will forever be grateful for your friendship.”
Hendrick had joined Gordon on stage just before the speech, sharing that, to him, the driver is “like a son, like a little brother and, most of all, a great friend.” He then passed the spotlight to Ella and Leo Gordon, who presented their father with his Hall of Fame ring.
“I’m so fortunate to have driven the best cars by the best people and owned by the best owner in NASCAR.”Jeff Gordon
The four-time champion admired the ring as he scanned the gathered crowd.
“What a special evening this is,” he said. “I’m so honored to be a part of this 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class with Roger (Penske), Jack (Roush), Davey (Allison) and Alan (Kulwicki).”
Looking back on a decorated, iconic tenure in the sport that led him to the Hall of Fame alongside such illustrious company, Gordon said one achievement stands out above the rest.
“What I am most proud of in my career is being forever connected to Rick, Ray and everyone on that 24 team in 1995 when we went out and won our first NASCAR Cup championship together,” he said. “I’m so fortunate to have driven the best cars by the best people and owned by the best owner in NASCAR.”
Gordon thanked his parents. He thanked his wife and children. He thanked his crew chiefs and all the men and women who ever had a hand in the success of the No. 24 team.
He thanked a sponsor that has been with him since day one – Axalta – and noted how much it means to him to have earned each and every one of his 93 wins and four championships behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.
And, of course, he made sure to thank the fans.
“You’re the heartbeat that makes racing the great sport that it is,” Gordon said. “You have made being a race car driver an absolute dream come true.”
In closing, Gordon said it would be impossible to put into words just what NASCAR has meant to him. So, instead, he cued up a clip of an interview from 1990 when he was only 19 years old.
In it, he was asked how he hopes to be remembered. He answered that he hopes one day to be considered among the greats of the sport like Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Ken Schrader.
“Sure, it’s great to be the young kid when he was coming up,” the fresh-faced Gordon said in the clip, “but pretty soon I’m going to get older and they’re not going to be able to call me that, so, I’ve got to do something.”
He certainly did.
With tears in his eyes, the driver held his ring up to the crowd, and Friday night’s induction ceremony came to a close with Gordon officially cemented as a NASCAR Hall of Famer.