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NASCAR Fans Back Jeff Gordon as Their First Hero

Now the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, the Rainbow Warrior’s unparalleled legacy continues to hold strong.  

By Andrew Woodin
Jeff Gordon poses for a photo

People always remember Jeff Gordon for not only winning four NASCAR Cup Series championships for Hendrick Motorsports (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001) — but also for doing so in an era that arguably had the most talented field of drivers.

After Gordon’s inaugural race at the 1992 Hooters 500 in Atlanta, Georgia, against Richard Petty in his last race, the Wonder Boy would go on to compete against the legendary Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Tony Stewart, Terry Labonte, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, just to name a few. 

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Still, Gordon — now the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports — will forever be loved and admired not just for his accolade-peppered career that featured duels with the Intimidator, but for how much he gave himself to the sport in any fashion he could. Unlike many drivers who hail from North Carolina, Georgia or other Southeastern states, Gordon was born in California, but his career catapulted once he began competing in Indiana at the age of 14 — a fitting state for Gordon, considering he’d go on to win the Brickyard a whopping five times.

While Gordon will never catch Petty or Johnson — who each share a record seven Cup Series championship victories — he’s making up for it elsewhere in the realm of public opinion. He may not have the hardware to show like they do, but Gordon’s global iconic status is about as synonymous with NASCAR as peanut butter is with jelly, and his throngs of diehard fans aren't forgetting him or his accomplishments any time soon. 

NASCAR fans praise Jeff Gordon as the first driver they ever cheered for

The former poster boy of NASCAR recently got a warm reminder of how much he means to those he left an indelible impression on. NASCAR on NBC asked fans on social media Monday who the first driver was that they ever cheered for, and Gordon featured prominently. In addition to many naming the four-time champion, several X users also shared personal anecdotes about Gordon.

“Jeff Gordon is my number 1 driver since I was a kid,” wrote one person.

“Jeff Gordon! And he was the first one I got to meet. Still have the two cars he autographed that day,” stated another X user.

Someone else responded, “When NASCAR came to Fontana, CA in the 90s I got into it and Jeff Gordon was the guy I started to like & root for. Now I always root for team Hendrick guys.” 

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One would think that a three-time Daytona 500 winner and three-time Coca-Cola 600 victor would have more of an ego, but that’s not Gordon. Over the span of the 805 Cup Series races he competed in, the NASCAR Hall of Famer won an astounding 93 while notching 477 top-10 finishes and 81 poles. But as bonkers of a resume as that is, Gordon’s legacy eclipses many by leaps and bounds because of his selfless passion for the sport and his perpetually humble personality.

When reporters asked him at his retirement media conference in 2015 what he hoped to be most remembered for, Gordon delivered a classy reply.

What did Jeff Gordon say when he announced his racing retirement?

“I definitely am proud of everything I’ve done on and off the track,” noted a modest Gordon, according to Bleacher Report. “But I guess I like to keep it simple when I think of things like this. I think of my heroes on the track when I was growing up — A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears, Al Unser. ... I loved the fact that those guys won Indianapolis 500s and championships. They were great race car drivers. And quite simply, I will be happy if people recognize me as a great race car driver, because that’s all I ever wanted to be.”

Jeff Gordon speaking to driver Kyle Larson

Arguably no one has meant more for the development of the NASCAR Cup Series than Gordon, inspiring legions of fans and several of today’s generation of drivers like recent Cup Series winner Ryan Blaney, as well as Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, both of which he works with under the banners at Hendrick Motorsports.

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Rick Hendrick — who now works with Gordon in a different capacity since the Wonder Boy transitioned to be the vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports — said when Gordon announced his retirement from racing in 2015 that his work off the track elevated his legacy just as much as his prowess behind the wheel.

“I think the fans will remember Jeff as a young guy who came into the sport and changed the sport,” the Hendrick Motorsports owner said at the time.

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