Vito Pugliese · Thursday November 4, 2010
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A funny thing happened on the way to last weekend’s AMP Energy Juice 500 at Talladega. Well, not really that funny…and not really on the way there. More like in the parking lot… but really in the infield. Robby Gordon’s truck got towed.
No, he wasn’t late on the payments; somebody didn’t like the paint job on it.
It wasn’t as if it was covered in slurs and taunts such as what the gang from Top Gear (i.e., the real one on BBC, not that abomination that will be starting shortly on History Channel) during their epic adventure known as American Road Trip had festooned upon their $1500 heaps driving across Alabama a couple of years ago – right around the 6:15 mark.
It was Gordon’s personal vehicle, and one he was using to get the word out about his new business venture. A few months ago, Gordon started referring to Robby Gordon Motorsports not as a racing team, but rather, “A marketing company that goes racing.” Now we know what he was on about.
His crime was starting his own energy drink company to help fund his racing endeavors, much to the chagrin of the title sponsor of the weekend’s event. Good to see the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in NASCAR, during these unprecedented times when people are struggling to make it to the track – be it fan or field filler. This isn’t the first time Gordon has been privy to such a conflict; when he drove for Richard Childress Racing, his sponsor Cingular Wireless at the time did not sit well with then series sponsor Nextel.
And such has become the NASCAR Sprint Cup career of Robby Gordon. With sponsorship dollars tight, Gordon has been notably absent in recent weeks, forgoing a season of running in the rear and barely holding on to a Top 35 spot. Instead, Gordon has handed the seat over to Kevin Conway who brought sponsorship from Extenze on board, several times recently. The move was necessary to help keep Gordon’s operation that was once brimming with sponsorship afloat. Gordon has taken a couple of turns in the second car in the stable, running No. 07 with SpeedFactory.tv on the quarters, though appearing to be little more than a start-and-park effort.
With the announcement of his new plans, Gordon seemed to make peace with putting to bed the full-time NASCAR owner/driver role, and entering a new phase of his career – racing in several series when time, money, and desire dictate.
“Running a 36-race schedule doesn’t work for Robby Gordon,” said Gordon, in the third-person. “It’s over as far as that goes. We’re going to have a lot of fun. We’ll show up and race NASCAR. NASCAR is something I want to do. We’re going to win races again. I’m very frustrated about the performance of our program.”
Gordon is determined to still participate in NASCAR, but looks to become a bit of a throwback to drivers 40 years ago; ones who would show up to run the big money races and prestige events in not just NASCAR, but all forms of motorsport. You’d be hard pressed to find any driver more versatile than Gordon, who is an accomplished road racer as well as an off-road ace who completes annually in the Dakar Rally and SCORE Baja events in Mexico. After nearly winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1999, Gordon would compete there five more times, finishing as high as third in 2001 and 2003.
With sponsorship concerns and conflicts being what they are, Gordon’s new venture as Energy Drink owner may be his smartest moves on the track yet as both an owner and a driver.
A driver of Gordon’s proven ability need not waste his time and talent tooling around in the back of the pack just to say he’s a NASCAR driver, even if it does mean pulling some decent purses just to show up each weekend. He’s always nails on a road course, the type of venue where the driver really does make a difference and have the most input into what a car can or can’t do. Off-road racing is no different and even more extreme, for if you bite it out in the desert, there isn’t a safety crew that is going to show up as your rig is finally coming to rest.
Going fast is fun, as is winning – something Gordon has not been able to do in NASCAR much the last few years, despite having nearly won the Montreal Nationwide race on a couple of occasions, or the No. 7 team beating themselves at virtually every Cup race at Infineon.
The fact that in this day and age of money woes, this kind of business with towing cars because of their sponsorship messages, or that certain cellular phone service providers not being able to participate due to the series sponsor continues unabated is ludicrous. The contradictory nature of advertising and funding that has arisen is the kind of things that turns fans off to a sport, let alone a driver. One gets the sense that Gordon has had it with being just a Top 35 team, and is going after other pursuits that will pay larger dividends personally, professionally, and economically.
At the risk of getting my ride towed, best of luck with the new company Robby, and we’ll look forward to seeing you when we can in 2011, if just a little less.
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