Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage has known Jeff Gordon for more than 25 years, dating back to when Gordon was still racing sprint cars as a teenager in and around the Midwest, long before he ever became a NASCAR superstar.
For Gossage, Gordon’s announcement Thursday that 2015 will be his final full-time season in Sprint Cup, hit home more personally than to most.
“My first reaction was how did he keep it a secret,” Gossage said in a press conference at the racetrack. “Like all sports, it’s a very difficult industry to keep secrets in and that’s a big story.
“I’ve known Jeff since he was a teenager with a really bad thin little mustache. It’s been a privilege to be around and see him grow into probably the most important driver our series has ever experienced. He brought a professionalism and just an aura that we hadn’t seen before.
“… I’m not going to say he’s the most important driver ever, but he’s in the top two or three.”
Because of their long friendship and all the good times they have spent together over the past quarter century, Gossage went from a high-ranking official in the sport to just a fan, recalling a great deal from Gordon’s career with pride and amazement.
“I’m not surprised, but I think I’m like most race fans. I don’t care who you pull for, you have to be disappointed that one of the very best of all time is in the fourth quarter, maybe the last two minutes, of his career.”
And what a career Gordon has had, Gossage said.
“It’s not a coincidence that the sport grew and Jeff’s career went on a rise at exactly the same time,” Gossage said. “Now, which begat which is the question.
“… He certainly benefitted from NASCAR’s growth, NASCAR benefitted from Jeff’s growth and popularity and his manner and style. But trust me when I say, for somebody who’s known him well, that there’s a fiery, tough guy, hard as nails competitor in there. You don’t become a four-time champ like Jeff and 90-some-odd wins without having that killer attitude when it comes time to drop the flag and go racing.”
Gossage believes Gordon’s ongoing back issue is what finally convinced him to call it a career.
“He has a horrendously bad back that’s been caused and aggravated by racing, getting in and out of the car, simply the wear and tear, but also accidents and things of that nature through the years,” Gossage said.
And while Gossage knows Gordon’s retirement is now reality and will occur following the season’s final race at Homestead 10 months from now, Gossage is both kind of looking forward to and also dreading his friend’s last two appearances in a Sprint Cup car at TMS.
“In the car, he backed it up better than anybody else,” Gossage said. “It’s going to be bittersweet to see him run his last two races here (at TMS).”
See Gossage’s full press conference and more recollections of Gordon in the video below.
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