Jeff Gordon: Entrepreneur, employee, spokesman, humanitarian, everyman
Most athletes have an entourage. Jeff Gordon has an army to keep his days moving at 200 mph.
By the time Gordon's No. 24 DuPont Chevy takes the green flag, it has come in contact with no fewer than 300 people who've built and tested the 700-horsepower rocket. After that, a team of 50 engineers, mechanics and specialists fine-tune each car at the shop before an advance road crew of eight guides it through qualifying, practice and race prep.
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John Bickford sits in his office above the No. 24 DuPont race shop, surrounded by carafes of Jeff Gordon Chardonnay, a stack of Jeff Gordon ergonomic pillows and bottles of Halston Z-14 cologne -- a scent endorsed by, yes, Jeff Gordon. If the people who clog Bickford's voice mail had their way, he'd also be buried under stacks of Jeff Gordon cookies, frozen chicken and panty hose.
It's all geared toward brand strategy. But just like Tiger Woods, our brand is a name, a personality. So we constantly ask, Would this really reflect Jeff?
Rick Hendrick remembers the time he first laid eyes on Gordon. It was March 14, 1992, at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Hendrick, then in his ninth season as a NASCAR owner, was watching a Busch Series race. Actually, he was watching one car.
Gordon was 14 when he walked into Valvoline's Indianapolis office to try to talk his way into getting free oil for his sprint car. When asked how he'd gotten there, the kid replied without so much as a grin, "My mom drove me. How about that oil?"
We receive 150 to 200 requests each week. Everything from magazine cover shoots to phone interviews to one-liner promos for local radio stations.
Pitching product also means playing nice with the media, which means Gordon's priorities are tiered from national TV and print down to regional newspapers and local radio. Every verbal sponsor mention or in-focus shot of logos is tabulated for exposure reports that tell the sponsors how well their association with Gordon is paying off. "He'll do 300 appearances this year," Bickford says. "We manage his schedule here at JGI from the checkered flag on Sunday until Jeff gets to the next track, on Thursday night. Everything at the track belongs to the other Jon."That would be Jon Edwards of Performance PR Plus, a 12-person firm that rose to prominence along with Gordon, its biggest client. Edwards is a Durham, N.C., native who receives nearly as much face time as Gordon during race weekends. He's the guy with the Secret Service-style earpiece who's been 6 inches off his driver's shoulder for every press conference and postrace interview since 2000 -- equal parts traffic cop, confidant and bodyguard. "We receive 150 to 200 requests each week," Edwards says. "Everything from magazine cover shoots to phone interviews to one-liner promos for local radio stations. We would do it all if we could, but there's only so much time in a weekend."Well, at least the Worldwide Leader is always willing to make life easier, right?"Actually, this week alone I've had five requests from every platform of ESPN, from NASCAR Now to SportsCenter to ESPN.com to The Magazine," Edwards says. "Think you could help me out with a little corporate synergy?"Oops. Our bad.
While Gordon was winning three Cup titles with Evernham in the 1990s, Evernham's son, Ray J, was battling leukemia, and owner Rick Hendrick was diagnosed with the same. Both have recovered, but the impact of their fights still rides with Gordon.
When daughter Ella Sofia was born on June 20, Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch wanted to create as normal a family life as possible -- which meant a little lifestyle adjustment at his homes in Charlotte and New York City.
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