The Frontstretch: Robby Gordon: Just Being Robby by Tommy Thompson -- Wednesday April 2, 2008

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Robby Gordon: Just Being Robby

Thompson in Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Wednesday April 2, 2008


It has just been a year since I wrote the article Robby Gordon: NASCAR's Lone Wolf in which I touched on some of the uniqueness that is Robby Gordon. I was somewhat surprised to learn after the Frontstretch article appeared that the California native has a considerably larger fan base than I had estimated. Likewise, I was equally dumbfounded that those same fans didn't latch on to my "Lone Wolf" moniker and begin using it routinely and endearingly when referring to their favorite driver. Apparently, the name wasn't as clever as I had originally believed it to be.

In all seriousness, I had suspected that the whole nickname thing might be too much of a mouthful for everyday use. I would have been tickled if his fans had even shortened it; say to "Wolf," or something like that. But… nothing? Oh, well; all that aside, nothing that has transpired at "Camp Robby" in the last year has diminished my belief that Robby Gordon does not run with the main "pack" of NASCAR drivers; and neither has my opinion that he is a man unto himself amongst his racing peers.

Six races into the 2007 Cup season, Gordon was 23rd in the driver point standings, and this year, not much has changed — even though the makeup of his team has. Never mind that he and his RGM crew pulled off a last minute manufacturer switch prior to Daytona that sees Robby now campaigning for Dodge rather than Chevrolet; the No. 7 entry still finds itself 25th in points after the sixth race of 2008 at Martinsville. That’s certainly not a big slip in performance for a team that many expected to be on "life support" by now, as last year’s well-financed Toyota programs have begun to rise in the standings.

That the chronically sponsor-challenged Gordon still continues to defy the almost impossible odds of actually competing as a one-car team and an owner/driver is enough to in itself to root for the true NASCAR underdog. It’s a feat that this writer continues to marvel over, and believes has never received the accolades that Gordon's accomplishment is deserving of. But just for sheer entertainment value, it is easy for me to understand why Gordon has his legion of fans. In today's NASCAR environment, drivers are generally required to be conscious of their roles as corporate representatives for the folks whose logo is prominently displayed on the hoods of their race cars. However, many fans have found their "choir boy-exciting-as-wingtips" personalities off-putting. But Robby Gordon has tapped his particular fan base due to his being the antithesis to the politically correct NASCAR norm; and fans have responded to that in droves.

It may not be a popular choice, but Robby Gordon has found a faithful legion of fans in the Sprint Cup Series thanks to his anti-politically correct nature.

What has Robby done lately? Well, he has taken the term "not politically correct" to perhaps its most literal form, and on a global scale. This time, Robby has even outdone Robby… and some might say that his "take it to the limit" conduct on and off the track is exactly why the majority of his supporters like the guy.

Following the cancellation of the Dakar Rally this January, Gordon, who claims to have lost upwards of $4 million as a result, had unkind words for the race organizers for canceling the event due to what were reported to be “direct” threats of terrorism from al-Qaeda linked militant groups. The threats followed on the heels of a December 24, 2007 slaying of French tourists by militants in Mauritania; however, despite that incident, Gordon argued that at least part of the 16-day event should have been run.

Gordon decided to support his argument by rationalizing it this way:

“Let's put it in perspective,” he said. “Eleven people got killed over there. I'm pretty sure in L.A., we kill 11 a night on the streets of L.A. … it was a couple of kids in the back of a pickup truck with a couple of AK-47s who shot a couple of people.”

Wow! I doubt that anyone saw that coming. Robby Gordon Motorsports’ Marketing Department must have tripped a circuit breaker when word of that outburst reached their desks. It was a double whammy of sorts for them; giving negative commentary on crime in America and thumbing his nose at militants in the same breath. Surely, Gordon understands that it isn't necessarily Marketing’s fault they have so much difficulty finding Fortune 500 companies eager to sign up for a long-term commitment with the team.

But the upshot to this latest “Robby moment” is that his comments went largely unnoticed; well, almost. One of Gordon's sponsors for the Dakar event took exception to his remarks, and requested that he quit modeling their logo on his driving suit and return $1.15 million dollars in sponsorship money. Security software firm Vanguard Integrity Professionals have sued Gordon, and are making it perfectly clear that they do not support his racing endeavors any longer. Vanguard had been signed to sponsor Gordon's Dakar efforts through 2010; however, Gordon's post-cancellation comments were among a myriad of reasons given for the company wishing to disassociate themselves from Gordon and his team.

The security firm issued the following official statement:

“It is not positive to be associated with someone who said al-Qaeda attacks are no worse than an average night in America—especially for a security software company. It's simply not a true or accurate statement.”

But holding firm to his beliefs, Robby Gordon insists that Vanguard cannot legally cancel their contract with him. In fact, he’s publicly explained he’ll fight any such decision tooth and nail.

This conflict, in my mind, beats Robby's past misdeeds hands down; he has definitely taken the term "controversial driver" to a whole new level. But just like his previous missteps, it is doubtful that this latest headliner will permanently damage him. I've watched this guy long enough now to know if nothing else… you don't bet against him.

Whether taking on international terrorism or the NASCAR establishment, Gordon does not follow the beaten path. He seems committed to being his own person, not willing to kowtow to other drivers, owners, sponsors, or NASCAR. With that in mind, there is small wonder that Gordon has such a loyal following of fans that appreciate Robby being no one else but Robby.

And… that's my view from Turn 5.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


©2000 - 2008 Tommy Thompson and Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!

04/02/2008 01:39 AM

As a fan of Robby I can say you pretty much hit the nail on the head. He’s a throwback to the glory days when the drivers didn’t take any crap and it was all about the racin. If the newly re-integrated open wheel series was on the ball they would offer a couple million to Robby and Tony Stewart to jump into the Indy cars and have an instant fan base for the series each raceday. Better get after Tony quick though, as I see RCR is going to have 4 teams next year and we all know how much Tony loves driving the Toys.

04/02/2008 07:49 AM

Whatever Robby may be, he is still my NA$CAR HERO!


Too bad they, NA$CAR, has forgotten that fact!

04/02/2008 08:35 AM

THAT is what it means to be a TRUE racer ..Robbies comments didnt come out of stupidity they came from a man who lives to race ..doesnt matter if its daytona , martinsville or a big damn sandbox ,take away what he worked all his life for and hes bound to be BENT !!Just IMAGINE if the other 42 crybabys outs there loved their jobs this much !!

04/02/2008 09:12 AM

Robby came over to Dodge from a Ford, instead of a Chebbie. He started with Ford at the start of the 2007 season. Prior to that he was driving a #7 Chebbie!

Bob Whitehead
04/02/2008 10:12 AM

“choir boy-exciting-as-wingtips” personalities… You crack me up, Tommy! Great article. Robby is one of a kind, to be sure.

04/02/2008 10:43 AM

I’ve followed Robby since his days in CART & nothing has changed except his cars now have fenders, a roof & the motor is in front of him. He is absolutely one of a kind!

04/02/2008 12:32 PM

Due to the blatently unfair penalty. We’ve been outed. Yes Robby does have a tremendous, & fanitically loyal fan base. Sponsors take notice. Why settle for plane vanilla, when you can have habanero!!

Frank Emm
04/02/2008 12:47 PM

Another longtime Robby Gordon fan here,these days on Sunday we watch Robby Gordon,Tony Stewart and 41 Johnboy Walton clones race at various tracks.Thank God for Robby and Tony they keep things interesting.

04/02/2008 12:47 PM

I have followed Robby since his IMSA days & yes, nothing has changed except his cars. He is absolutely, without a doubt one of a kind & in my opinion the BEST American RACER, if not the BEST RACER in the world!
Gas On – #1 Feed Fan.

04/02/2008 04:59 PM

On 9-11 over 2,000 were killed did nascar stop racing in the U S no that is terrorism 1 Dakar Rally 0. GIVE THEM HELL ROBBY.

04/02/2008 05:46 PM

Actually after 9/11 NASCAR did postpone the race at Loudon. And oddly, Robby Gordon won the “make up” event at the track, getting his first win and a win for RCR at the end of a very difficult 2001 season for Childress.

04/03/2008 11:48 AM

What you failed to mention about the Vanguard issue was the Ronn Bailey, the owner/president of Vanguard bought his way as a 2nd driver for RGM by sponsoring Robby’s Dakar program. The race was canceled within 13 hours of the start , with no back up plan whatsoever, from a world class racing event. RGM had invested a great deal of time and money in preparation for the event. Robby is the only American driver to win a stage of the Dakar and had great expectations for this years race. What he said was in the heat of a very sudden and disappointing cancellation. He was not making light of the 4 French tourists killed by militants , in a country that is wrought with violence, before and since the scheduled race. We don’t cancel a sporting event of any kind in the United states because of nightly violence in many of the major cities of the United States. Ronn Bailey was latching on to Robby’s star, buying (called sponsoring) a ride in a second hummer. If the terrorists threats reported were known before the race surly they were known more that a few hours. The murdered people were killed over a week before. Why not cancel the race then?why was there not a back up plan? You now have made a very passionate Robby Gordon seem like a selfish, cruel hearted person, when exactly the opposite is true. Ronn Bailey tucked tail and ran, and wanted his money back, pure and simple and tried to justify it by throwing Robby under the bus using a statement by Robby Gordon,using his right to free speech, guaranteed in America , as the reason.

04/03/2008 05:08 PM

I’m glad I read this article, because the reporting of it by others left the impression that Robby was advocating killing 11. His comment brings to mind, my observation that some seem overly concerned about 4000 dying in an attempt to right a wrong. However, no one seems too concerned about the 10’s of thousands dying on our highways annually. That radicals want to kill us precludes appathy. However, people dying needlessly for a much less noble cause (getting from point “a” to “b”) seems a much greater crime. Where’s the outcry? Did anyone point out the fact that Robby was willing to take the “risk” to do the race? There are fewer REAL men (or women) walking around today. Robby Gordon is one of those few.

04/04/2008 08:45 AM

My apologies to Tommy…I failed to acknowledge and thank him for a great article highlighting the reasons that Robby Gordon fans are so adamant about their love and support of him.I don’t know how he manages to juggle all the responsibilities to his race shops ( 2) sponsors, racing and all the time he gives to his fans. The mis-information in an AP article really set my teeth on edge and I wanted to try to clarify that and forgot my manners. Thank you Tommy for your follow-up article. I hope there will be more to come.Gas on, Robby!!!

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