Jeff Gordon – The Regis Philbin Of NASCAR Television

Charlotte, NC – No one has spent more time on television than Regis Philbin.

It?s the truth.

The little man with the excitable voice has spent more time in front of the camera than any other television star in the history of the medium. More than Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, Alex Trebek and any other television personality you can think of.

Normally, this little known fact would never find its way into a column about auto racing, but Philbin?s name came up in a weekend press release stating NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon would sit in for Philbin as the co-host ?Live With Regis and Kelly? on ABC Friday, January 18.

In case you?ve somehow missed it, the ?Live With Regis and Kelly? show is a staple of daytime television drawing millions of views in over 200 national television markets each day. Philbin and co-host Kelly Ripa serve up a menu of witty banter and engaging guests each day, a dish that has kept the show in syndication for 20 years.

So what?s the big deal about Gordon being on the show?

Nothing, if you consider he?s done the show before as well as a host of others to boot.

Along with Philbin?s show, ?Wonder Boy? has appeared on Saturday Night Live, Arli$$, Larry King, Spin City, Drew Carey, The View, Wayne Brady and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He?s also graced the small screen on Spin City, the Tonight Show, The Late Show With David Letterman, Player$, and the Tony Danza Show.

Then there was also that unforgettable (forgettable?) appearance at Wrigley Field (Stadium?) where he sung (butchered) the seventh-inning stretch song ?Take Me Out To The Ballgame.?

Nope, Gordon is a regular on the television circuit. In fact, in terms of appearances, nobody gets more TV time than Gordon – not even Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

When it comes to being on the tube, Gordon is NASCAR’s Regis Philbin.

In today?s modern motorsports world, drivers like Gordon routinely appear on the kind of mainstream shows listed above. They are well spoken, ?friendly? to the camera, and come off just as chatty as the hosts in most instances.

It?s a long way from just 20 years ago when racers television appearances were limited to anything other than a few motor oil or other automotive related product commercials. Racers and TV just didn?t mix back then, in part because racing was an ?in the shadows? sport and racers were mostly rough around the edges.

While there were plenty of drivers with charisma, Richard Petty was the only NASCAR racer to break through into the mainstream in the 1970s and early 1980s ? and Petty?s popularity came more on the weight of his staggering on-track record, not his folksy North Carolina public persona.

Darrell Waltrip was the first real breakthrough star in NASCAR. His good looks, charm, and witty say just about anything style made him a hit first with the racing media. Then, in 1987, Waltrip teamed up with Rick Hendrick and introduced the Tide laundry detergent to the sport. The effort marketing brought the sport into the mainstream as parent company Proctor and Gamble backed the team with seemingly unlimited promotion to mainstream America. For the first time, a major, non-automotive, beer or tobacco company and product was banging the drum for racing opening the door to other such companies to walk in.

Since then, countless consumer-friendly products have come and gone from motorsports marketing, but each had a hand in bring racing ? especially NASCAR ? to a position of on-par prominence in American sport and culture. Those sponsorship efforts, along with drivers like Gordon, have made NASCAR a household name and, more importantly, have put racing in an unparalleled position of success and acceptance on everyday television.

So when you settle into the couch and tune in ?Live With Regis and Kelly? on the 18th, don?t think of it as just another Jeff Gordon television appearance. Frame it in the context of just two decades or so ago when race drivers were rarely ever seen on television. Heck, only few races were on television in the 1970s, and most of those were cut up in segments on ABC?s ?Wide World of Sports? ? not the multi-hour pre-event, race coverage, and post-event marathon telecasts of today? and surely not the mainstream guest shots like Gordon?s will be on the 18th.

Want to see just how far we?ve come and how far racing has fought its way into the American consciousness? Just tune in Jeffy?s television sit-in for Regis and you?ll get the message.

And if you miss it – don’t worry. Gordon will be on some other television show on your dial soon.

Race fans will be cozying up to their televisions this week for something more important than Jeff Gordon’s latest guest shot as they tune in for the results from Daytona 500 pre-season testing.

The unofficial start to the season each year, Daytona testing gets underway with the Cup boys taking to the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway January 7-9. The Trucks follow at DIS January 11-13 before the Cup cars return for a second round of testing January 14-16. The Nationwide cars close out the Daytona practice sked January 18-22.

Testing for this year?s Daytona 500 will be important for a number of reasons. This will be the first real test of NASCAR?s ?Car of Tomorrow? (there needs to be a new name for this) at Daytona as the car will compete there and at all tracks on the circuit this year.

Anytime you have a new piece at the racetrack, there?s bound to be changes. The first will be slower speeds, down somewhere around 10 miles per hour from top speeds in the 186 miles per hour range of a year ago. There will also be new technical procedures and on-track drafting techniques, all closely watched over by NASCAR officials and a phalanx of team engineers for each car.

Of course, there will also be the round of new faces in new places driver and team combo changes for this season.

Finally, Daytona practice this year will lead up to the 50th annual Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 18.

Standing in Victory Lane at Daytona is always a life experience, but taking home the a specially gold plated Harley Earl Trophy for winning the 50th-edition of one of the world?s greatest motorsports events would be over the top moment for any driver, team owner, race team member or sponsor.

Mix it all together, and Daytona stesting should be more interesting than ever before. At the very least, it means we started a new racing season and that’s never a bad thing.

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