CONCORD, N.C. – Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon has a special appreciation for the impact the organization’s engine department had on his Hall of Fame driving career.
Four NASCAR Cup Series championships, 93 wins and 81 pole positions - all powered by the engine shop on the team’s Concord, North Carolina campus.
"When you look at what we do with the cars that we have and the parts, the pieces, the rules and the engines that we have, those folks are doing amazing things," Gordon told HendrickMotorsports.com. "I got to be the beneficiary of it and the one thing I never had to worry about was horsepower."
The 500th win for the engine shop just came at Darlington Raceway with driver Kyle Larson in the 2023 Cup Series playoff opener.
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Even from his first days with Hendrick Motorsports, Gordon knew the advantage he held over his competitors.
"It’s really special because when I came to Hendrick Motorsports, the thing that was evident to me right away, especially after I drove my first Hendrick Motorsports car, was the engine shop," Gordon said. "A lot of things in this company centered around the engine shop. The horsepower, the reliability and the pride that goes into that area of Hendrick Motorsports. Right away, I was at an advantage against my competitors when I was able to step on the throttle pedal and feel that kind of power."
The famed driver of the No. 24 Chevrolet recalled what a difference the department made during the days when teams ran both a qualifying and race engine.
"They would take the qualifying engine and put it in," Gordon said. "You’d go and run some practice laps and qualify. To do that for one good lap, you’ve got to have a lot of power. I always loved hearing when the engine shop would come to me and say, 'Oh, we got you a couple more horsepower this time. I think you’re going to like this.' It made my life and my job a lot easier. They always put a big smile on my face for that."
Besides the power of the engines, the sustainability and dependability in performance have long been the calling cards of the program.
"On the other side of that is how do you make good power and have reliability? The only way you win championships is by having reliability," Gordon said. "To mix those two together, the power and the reliability is a tremendous combination. Now as an executive, I go over there and I see every day the way people handle themselves and the pride that they take in doing that job and supplying great horsepower to our teams and drivers."
The reliability of the engines was something Gordon came back to when talking about the program as a whole and the impact on his driving career.
"As a driver, especially on the road courses and maybe a Martinsville (Speedway) and some of the shorter tracks, you just realize by driving the car, the abuse that you are putting into that engine. You get to this place that you almost take it for granted that it can take that. I just think of the thousands and thousands of laps and miles that I ran throughout my career and how much abuse I put with my right foot through the power plant and to the rear tires and to know that the engines can withstand that is a testament to the hard work of the engine shop."
Gordon won championships at Hendrick Motorsports in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. Yet, it’s a win from his second full-time Cup season at the Indiana native’s home track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just after he turned 23, that stands out to him in large part due to the horsepower the engine shop provided.
"I think back to the Brickyard 400 in 1994, which still to this day is probably the biggest win of my career. That day it was a horsepower battle between us and (Robert) Yates. Ernie Irvan and I on the track and just swapping the lead back and forth. He’d get ahead of me and I’d get a run and use that power down the straightaway to draft up behind him, go by him and lead for a couple of laps. And then Ernie would get a run on me.
"I’ll never forget that day and that moment because I knew that the differentiator that we had was how good our car was on the straightaways because of the horsepower we had. That was just one moment. I could tell a similar story (of the engine shop’s impact) for many other wins that I had over the years."