Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Happy Birthday Jeff Gordon

Michael Waltrip is something of a favorite of mine. He’s another one I was privileged to know when he was growing up. I know there are a lot of folks who think Michael doesn’t have both oars in the water, and there have been times when I’ve thought he’s a couple of french fries short of a Happy Meal. However, his success with his team and his willingness to admit that it’s time for him to get out of the saddle full time have impressed me. He’s a man of his word. He said if he didn’t think he could drive competitively, he’d quit. I suppose his other drivers have shown him it’s not the equipment.

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I don’t blame him for wanting to continue on the plate tracks, because that’s where his personal success has come. One of my favorite memories of Michael comes from what was then the Busch race at what was then Indianapolis Raceway Park. Funny how I have to say “what was then” so often, isn’t it?

Michael always made an effort to take part in the races at Indianapolis Raceway Park. He won the Kroger 200 on Aug. 4, 1989, driving the Country Time Pontiac for Chuck Rider. It was a year-and-a-half before Jeff Gordon – then a USAC star – would drive knee-deep into the Busch Series himself, but the race happened to fall on his birthday.

Jeff, as I’ve said before, is the first of those I watched come up through the USAC midgets and sprint cars. We took a little of the credit for making him famous through his success on our Thursday Night Thunder TV races which first brought him to the attention of a national audience. Since he was still one of “our” drivers back then, we decided to get a birthday cake and present it to him in pre-race ceremonies.

Bob Daniels (the fact that Aug. 4 was also Bob’s birthday made it easy to remember) had the cake box and I had the microphone. I called Jeff to the start/finish line and made the announcement that it was his birthday, when all of a sudden Michael comes through the gate from the grandstand area and says, “Gimme that, Potts.”

Not waiting for a response, he grabs the microphone and tells the crowd, “Let’s all sing Happy Birthday to Jeff.” He then proceeded to lead the sizable crowd in the singing. When he was through, he simply handed the microphone back and walked off.

Since then, I’ve never been surprised at anything Michael has said or done.

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Something on a personal note.

A recent Saturday night at Corbin Speedway near Corbin, Ky., a lady fan stopped to talk to me as she and her young son were leaving. She said, “You do a great job,” referring to my announcing from the handicapped section of the grandstand. I like doing it this way because I’m out there with the fans, they seem to appreciate what I’m saying and they seem to feed off my feelings for motorsports.

I know I’m not the world’s greatest announcer, and I was taken aback a little and after saying “Hi” to her son (I love kids and I try to make it a point to wave at all of them and say something as they go by), I just commented that I appreciated her comment and added, “I really love doing it.”

Her response was something that cannot be bought.

She said, “You can tell.”

Now, maybe some big-time announcers for ESPN, TNT, SPEED or anybody else who handles motorsports can’t relate to this, but I think that people like Larry McReynolds, Darrell Waltrip, Kyle Petty and Hermie Sadler can understand it.

I mention those particular people because they are some of my personal favorites. I’m sure they also feel that nothing can equal the feeling you get when someone else tells you they realize you have a lot of feeling for our sport and for the job you’re doing in it.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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