NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon’s Healthy Life on and off the Track
What drives this champion to win on the racetrack, as a husband and a dad, and in his quest to help kids with life-threatening conditions?
Jeff Gordon, Champion for Children
Gordon’s 2007 season may be proof that diversity pays off. After several lackluster seasons, Gordon started the 2007 Sprint Cup Series as a newlywed. Halfway through, his wife, Ingrid, a Belgian model who recently appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue spotlighting top athletes’ wives, gave birth to Ella. While adjusting to his new roles -- first husband, then father -- he drove all the way to second place, his best finish in years.
Clearly, Gordon has found a way to balance his career with family, something he doesn’t believe he would have been able to do as a younger man. “I’m so glad I waited until I was older. I appreciate it much more than I would have at the beginning of my career,” explains Gordon. “I’ve had a lot of success over the years, and if I had had a child early on, perhaps I would not have accomplished as much.”
His accomplishments have not all been on the racetrack. Though he waited until he was 35 to start a family, caring for children has been a priority for quite a long time.
In 1992, Ray Evernham, then Gordon’s crew chief, came to him with bad news: Evernham’s young son, Ray J., had been diagnosed with leukemia. “That was a sad time,” recalls Gordon, who witnessed Evernham’s struggles to get his son the best possible care, followed by years of chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants before Ray J.’s cancer finally went into remission.
That experience gave Gordon new purpose: Together with Evernham and the rest of the Hendrick Motorsports auto racing team, Gordon sought out opportunities to raise awareness about the disease. At events across the country, he signed autographs while describing for fans the desperate need for bone marrow donors. “The relationship between driver and crew chief is a unique bond."
The Jeff Gordon Foundation
"For Jeff, it was like having someone in his own family going through this,” says Tricia Kriger, director of The Jeff Gordon Foundation.
His commitment has only increased with time. As his fame and fortune have grown -- he has earned more than $95 million in career winnings -- Gordon has drawn on each to help children with life-threatening and chronic diseases. In 1999, he started his foundation, which is dedicated to supporting the work of organizations like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Gordon’s foundation has raised $6 million since 1999, including $1 million in each of the last two years, and it provides major funding for the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital, which opened in December 2006 in Concord, N.C., and the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.
His foundation’s work is not limited to treating the illnesses themselves. It also seeks ways to improve quality of life for sick children and their families. For Gordon, no race weekend is complete unless he grants at least one child’s wish to meet him. He has made 200 such wishes come true during his career.