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The Callahan Report: Jeff Gordon is Becoming a Living Legend

6 September 1998

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel

Jeff Gordon
DARLINGTON, SC: Once in a great while, a sports legend is born. His accomplishments live forever. In basketball, names like Bird, Johnson, and Jordon fit into the legend category. In baseball, we hear daily about the accomplishments of players like Sosa and McGwire. These are unique times for NASCAR Winston Cup racing. Fans of the 90s are able to watch the latest legend in the making. Jeff Gordon continues to amaze even the most casual racing enthusiast. The amazement continued at the Southern 500 in Darlington.

It was a typical NASCAR Winston Cup race for Jeff Gordon Sunday. He was never too much of a threat . . . until the end. There was a ton of money on the line. He didn't make any mistakes. His team worked on his car and made it capable of winning. Gordon drove his heart out on the way to victory.

Darlington is known as the track that is "too tough to tame." If Gordon hasn't tamed it, he surely has a tight hold on its leash. Gordon captured his tenth win of the season by pulling into victory lane at the Southern 500 in Darlington. It was the fourth time in-a-row Gordon has won the fall classic. Gordon has won at least ten races in each of the last three Winston Cup seasons.

Gordon also cashed a major paycheck by winning at Darlington. The Southern 500 is one of five selected races in which drivers have a shot at a million dollar bonus. Gordon was one of those eligible drivers to win the bonus money. To be eligible for the bonus, drivers must finish in the top-five at the previous selected "No Bull 5" race. It was the third time in his career Gordon has collected a million dollars for winning a single race. Gordon also won the "No Bull 5" Bonus Million at the Brickyard 400 last month.

Gordon's "hang around till the end" style is becoming so common place, no one was surprised when he blew past race leader Jeff Burton in the closing laps of the race. Burton dominated the Southern 500 for most of the race. He knew the skill in the driver's seat of the car behind him. Even Burton accepted Gordon's pass for the lead like a champion.

"This was the hardest race I've ever had to run," said Gordon. " The car slid all over the place because the track was so slick." He continued, "(Jeff) Burton was killing us all day long, but we made the right adjustments near the end. And I think he used up his car."

Things got even sweeter for Gordon as the race wore down. Mark Martin, who has been dogging Gordon every step of the way in the Championship hunt, blew his engine. Martin was a front runner before his engine problems sent him falling to a 40th place finish. The driver of the Valvoline Taurus was a mere 67 point behind Gordon in the series points as the green flag fell for the start of the Southern 500. When the day was done, Martin trailed Gordon by 199 points.

Jeff Gordon

The drivers seem to understand and accept the success of Gordon and the DuPont racing team. Some of the other racing team owners are not as amiable. Gordon and the "rainbow warriors" racing team have been under close scrutiny since winning last weekend. Immediately following that race, Jack Roush, owner of the cars driven by Mark Martin and Jeff Burton, began pointing fingers at the DuPont team.

Accusations were made that the team has "soaked" their tires in chemicals to give them better grip. NASCAR officials impounded the tires from Gordon's and Mark Martin's cars after the race for analysis. Initial findings were negative. The tires have been sent to a lab for further intensive investigation.

When it comes to beating living legends, the competition needs to either work harder or sit back and give credit where talent and teamwork have produced amazing results. The teams getting beat by Gordon and the DuPont team are benefitting from his legend status. Audiences, both at the tracks and on television, have never been higher. Sponsors are approving big racing budgets just to be a part of the NASCAR Winston Cup success story.

While it seems the drivers have accepted the driving talent of Jeff Gordon, the team owners should take a closer look at their own wallets.....the wallets which continue to get fatter as a result of people like Jeff Gordon.

Editors Note: The images displayed in this article (plus many more) can be viewed in The Racing Image Galleries and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.