Jeff Gordon got behind the wheel of his first race car when he was 5 years old, running laps on a racetrack that his stepfather built for him in their hometown of Vallejo, Calif. At age 6, the future NASCAR champion piloted his quarter-midget car -- a tiny professional racing vehicle for the 5 to 16 set -- to 35 victories, setting five track records in the process.
It was an auspicious start to an astonishing career. In the years since, Gordon has won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship four times and the Daytona 500 three times. He has racked up more than 80 NASCAR wins. Only five other drivers have placed first more times than Gordon.
By Charlotte Latvala
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This year, the competition is as high as always, but he has a new source of inspiration: his daughter, Ella Sofia, who had her first birthday in June. Has becoming a father forced the legendary driver to shift gears? WebMD checked in with him recently to find out, and we learned that in Gordon’s drive to succeed -- both on the track and off -- he is not the only winner.
Jeff Gordon, Racing Champion
In Jeff Gordon’s 31 years of racing, nothing has prevented him from climbing into the driver’s seat on race day. Well, almost nothing.
“The only thing that’s kept me off the track was poison ivy,” says Gordon of his one miss. “My arm was so swollen I could not bend it.
“I have had bumps and bruises -- minor stuff compared to the accidents I have been in,” continues Gordon, who will be 37 in August. He then adds with a laugh, “Of course, I may have head injuries I don’t know about yet.”
This from a man who has had his share of scary crashes, the least of which would likely encourage mere mortals to trade in their car keys for a bus pass. As recently as March, a nasty crash in Las Vegas tore apart his car’s front end but left Gordon uninjured. Gordon pauses and, the laughter over, says, “I’m not fearless or foolish. But I use my fear to keep me from pushing the car too hard and going over the edge. After a bad wreck, you sometimes want to take a few weeks off, but unless your doctor tells you to, you don’t. You get right back on the track.”