BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:
I have to admit, it's something I've kept to myself over the many years I've covered NASCAR. At long last, here in the year 2015, I can make my admission with pride: I'm a Jeff Gordon fan. Now don't get me wrong, my favorite driver of all time is Davey Allison, as I grew close to him years ago. My most entertaining driver of all time is Dale Earnhardt, Sr, who was tough, unpredictable, a real wise guy. And there have been many others I have enjoyed over the years, from the ever-likable Carl Edwards, to the always honest Dale Earnhardt, Jr, to Bobby Allison to Richard & Kyle Petty to yes, Tony Stewart (never one to mince words). But in 31 years of chasing down drivers at Daytona and Talladega, the one man I went to for level-headed answers was the driver of the 24 car.
Talent? Jeff Gordon had it, and he continues to prove he has it now in his 23rd year of racing. His resume is as impressive as they come: 92 career wins, 77 poles won, three Daytona 500 victories, six wins at Talladega, five wins at the Brickyard. He was the clean cut kid from Indiana, a young man who helped take NASCAR national. He was the perfect foil to Dale Earnhardt, Sr and the perfect teammate to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Covering a race can be exhilarating and frustrating. Tempers flare, drivers are jacked up. Yet in the twenty-plus years I have covered Jeff Gordon, he has never failed to speak to the media even after a crash that knocked him out of a race.
And if ever there has been a world-wide ambassador in the sport, Gordon's your man.
Jeff Gordon has announced that 2015 will be his final season driving a race car. While he still may drive in selected races, the odds of that happening are low. Oh, he will remain very involved in Hendrick Motorsports (he's the owner of Jimmie Johnson's 48 car), but age, back spasms, and family turn out to be but a few reasons why he is leaving his seat. Will team owner Rick Hendrick move on? Of course, as rumors already have Chase Elliott set to take Gordon's place. That didn't stop Hendrick from speaking glowingly of Gordon today: "There is no way to quantify Jeff's impact", said Hendrick. "He's one of the biggest sports stars of a generation and his contributions to the growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There's been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be."
It's hard to argue with Hendrick's sentiments, as Gordon is one of those athletes who have transcended his sport. He's hosted "Saturday Night Live" and "Live With Kelly And Michael". He's been front at center at Kennedy Center events, and represented NASCAR at nearly every worldwide function. Most importantly? Through his foundation he's helped raise over $15 million for pediatric cancer research, not to mention millions to help feed the hungry.
As we move forward into 2015, be sure to enjoy the great athletes, who like Jeff Gordon, are soon to retire. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, David Ortiz, Tim Duncan, Roger Federer, the Williams sisters. Collectively they have brought us hours of entertainment and enjoyment. And if you are a fan of the Earnhardt family and have always rooted against Gordon? Be thankful for the years of pleasure he brought you, if only because he was the driver in your mind wearing the black hat.
I've been a TV sports anchor now for 34 years, and perhaps like you, I believe having Jeff Gordon on the sports map has made my life more interesting and more fulfilling. What do you think?