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Gordon And Stewart Hard To Replace

Jeff Gordon (driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr) and Tony Stewart at the Brickyard this weekemd. [John Wiedemann Photos]

Jeff Gordon (driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr) and Tony Stewart at the Brickyard this weekend. [John Wiedemann Photos]

 

We’ve been through this retirement thing before. Lee Petty, Curtis Turner and Junior Johnson did it years ago. Rusty Wallace, Bobby Allison, Bill Elliott and King Richard climbed out of the car more recently. And now it’s Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon’s turn in less than a year, and we sit here wondering where the next star drivers will come from.

We’re likely to feel closer to the latter two due to television coverage. They were in our living rooms every weekend at a time when the NASCAR explosion really hit hard.

Jeff was the “Kid” in the Rainbow car who battled the “Intimidator” in the black #3. Their faces were on Wheaties boxes on supermarket shelves and your breakfast tables.

Tony was often the AJ Foyt type. “Don’t ask me dumb questions and be ready to defend yourself after the race if your dumb move on the track keeps me from a good finish.” I asked that ‘dumb” question of Tony once, (something about running Indy Cars but we were at his hauler before a NASCAR race), and Stewart didn’t like it. His poor PR rep had smoothing-over to do after I got a very testy response.

Both were quite opposite in demeanor, but both accomplished so much both on and off the track. There were multiple championships, personal accomplishments and record-setting seasons.

Tony owned race tracks and racing teams. He drove sprint cars, won the Brickyard 400 twice and was an Indy car champion who did the “Double”; running both the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day. He swapped racers with F1 champ Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen and would have shaken-up the F1 world if he had the chance to run a race in that McLaren. Controversy and injury often stalked him.

Jeff was a short track, open wheel winner in USAC; a kid whose family moved to Indiana from California so he could race as a youngster. He wished he could have run in the Indy 500 but NASCAR success came early and kept him from there. He swapped racers with Juan Pablo Montoya and looked at home in that Williams F1 rocket. He hosted TV shows and his face sold many items in commercials.

Both were similar in many ways both at the race track and off. And both have openly and quietly given much time and money to numerous charities and causes.

They WILL be hard to replace, but many young drivers are standing in line to give it a try.

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth are established stars who have done much for the sport.

Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are close behind.

And somewhere, on a Saturday night at Slinger Super Speedway in Wisconsin or Five Flags Speedway in Florida, kids just out of go-karts are honing their skills in a Super Late Model, waiting for that chance that Tony and Jeff grabbed a hold of years ago.

We will miss Gordon and Stewart on the track, but continue to see them on television and in the pits.

So, kids at Slinger and Five Flags, keep working at it. The pit gate is opening and YOUR time is almost here.

 

 

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Paul Gohde
Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950's, Paul had no idea what "that noise" was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked. The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner's autograph in the pits, something he couldn't do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked. Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt's first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark's historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them. He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats. Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, "a factor that got me hooked in the first place."
Paul Gohde

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