The Amelia’s 2023 Honoree Jeff Gordon elevated the sport of NASCAR both on and off the track
Hagerty is proud to announce that NASCAR Hall of Famer and Vice Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, Jeff Gordon, will serve as Honoree of The Amelia on March 2–5, 2023. The weekend’s events will include a lively seminar on Saturday, featuring Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Fame crew chief Ray Evernham and opportunities to meet the legendary driver at Sunday’s concours that will showcase a class of vehicles he drove and won in during his career. Tickets for the 28th annual event are available at AmeliaConcours.com.
“Jeff embodies the spirit of The Amelia, often referred to as ‘the racer’s concours’,” said McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty. “His incredible success on the track has made him a household name, but Jeff is more than a legendary driver. His charitable heart is on display at Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, where he has led the battle to find a cure for childhood cancer for more than two decades.”
Gordon was one of the most versatile drivers of his era and is credited with helping take NASCAR mainstream in the 1990s. Born in California, he began racing at the age of 5, racing his quarter-midget 160 times a year in elementary school. While his competitors were competing maybe 50 times per season, Gordon was driving two different cars typically three times a week. He once went two and a half years without missing a weekend, racing six main events per week.
By the time Gordon was 13 he was ready to make the move to sprint cars. However, with California requiring sprint car drivers to be at least 16 years old, his parents made the decision to move to Indiana which allowed him to run. It didn’t take long for Gordon to start making a name for himself in quarter-midgets, go-karts, and sprint cars. He won the 1990 USAC Midget Series national championship at age 19 as the youngest driver to ever accomplish that feat.
As he was honing his driving ability, his stepfather helped him develop an on-camera persona by watching post-race interviews together and discussing what made certain ones interesting. This small attention to detail paid off as by the time Gordon arrived on the NASCAR scene, he did not look or sound like other drivers. His post-race interviews were energetic and crisp, he was enthusiastic about his sponsors and his friendly approachable demeanor made him popular with fans. Gordon was such a change of pace from the typical NASCAR driver thanks to his age, journey, being from California, and coming from an open wheel background. There are stories from that time of other NASCAR teams demanding their drivers start sounding more like Jeff Gordon.
In his second full season, NASCAR raced the inaugural 1994 Brickyard 400. It may not seem like such a big deal now, but this was the first time in history the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was used for more than the Indy 500 as no other races had ever been held at the world’s most famous racecourse. That first Brickyard 400 would feature the largest crowd and largest cash purse in NASCAR history. Auto racing is as much a part of the fabric of life in Indiana as rows of corn and playing basketball. And the Indiana fans quickly adopted this new local hero, the 1993 NASCAR Rookie of the year from just down the street in Pittsboro, Indiana—Jeff Gordon.
As a 14-year-old kid I was sitting behind the pits during that most anticipated race in NASCAR history. I distinctly remember hearing the roar of the crowd above the sound of the engines when Gordon took the lead from Ernie Irvan with 5 laps remaining in what he calls the “biggest win of his career.” I still have the die-cast of the famous rainbow #24 sitting on my desk right now, purchased that day in honor of my new favorite driver. Gordon’s second-ever NASCAR win would make him a superstar. Bob Jenkins on the TV broadcast said, “Years from today when 79 (the number of Indianapolis 500s run prior to this event) stock car races have been run here, we’ll remember the name Jeff Gordon, winner of the inaugural Brickyard 400!” And I think he was correct.
More than any driver, Gordon used the media and pop culture to take NASCAR and his own brand to audiences outside of the Southeast. He was doing TV shows that would seem unlikely for race-car drivers. There’s not enough room to list all ways he has been involved in the entertainment industry, which in turn brought more attention to racing and NASCAR as a whole. His win-at-all-costs attitude on the track yet his personable demeanor off made him the most important and influential driver of his generation, if not ever.
Gordon appeared on the daytime talk show Live 27 times (dating back to when it was with Regis and Kathie Lee) and was named one of People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People. He voices “Jeff Gorvette” on the movies Cars 2 and Cars 3, did voice-over work for the Mickey Mouse show, is in a Brad Paisley music video, was on American Idol and even an episode of The Simpsons.
He went on 20 late-night TV shows, appeared in five movies, and was the first NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live. He did the traditional stuff NASCAR drivers would do by appearing at sporting events and country concerts, but he took it a step further. He stopped by The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Larry King Show, Top Gear, Sesame Street, and read a clue on Jeopardy.
Pop culture in the 1980s and ’90s would often use the term “driving like Mario Andretti” to imply someone was going fast. In the 2000s it was Jeff Gordon’s name that was used in hip-hop songs by Jay-Z and Nelly (among many others) to mean the same.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell we are witnessing one of the greatest of all times in the moment, but that’s what we had from 1992 to 2015 with Jeff Gordon. Stepping back and looking at his career reveals the seismic impact he had on the sport. When he retired, he had 93 Cup Series putting him third all-time and first in the modern era (1972 to present). Driving for Hendrick Motorsports he won four Cup Series championships (and could have won a couple more based on points if it hadn’t gone to the Chase playoff system) and was, at 24, the youngest-ever NASCAR champion. He was a three-time Daytona 500 winner, five-time Brickyard 400 winner, and has the most wins in a single season in the modern era with 13 in 1998. ESPN gave him the Best Driver of the Year Award four times and ranked him the 10th Greatest Driver of All Time.
Probably one of the impressive stats about Jeff Gordon is that for 23 seasons he raced in 797 consecutive races (the most ever), though I guess it’s no surprise based on his commitment at such a young age. In his 23 years of full-time Cup Series competition, Gordon served as one of NASCAR’s most effective and committed ambassadors. His success at such an early age for a NASCAR driver helped reshape the way teams viewed younger drivers and helped open doors for future young drivers to have opportunities in the sport.
Gordon’s influence on NASCAR was highlighted during his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Kyle Larson, a new young driver from California who is part of the next generation that benefited from the path Gordon laid for them, shared during the event: “In the early ’90s, a youthful Californian stormed onto the NASCAR scene. His generational talent and charisma helped transform NASCAR from a regional sport to a national spectacle. Confident and flashy, he served as the perfect rival to the rugged Intimidator Dale Earnhardt. His name is found throughout NASCAR’s record books and now is etched permanently in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.”
Lest you think he’s just an oval driver, he has the most NASCAR road course wins with 9 and has also won the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports-car endurance race.
All the stats in the world don’t show the whole picture of the impact Jeff Gordon has had, though. Gordon was an ambassador to the sport. Here’s a challenge: Ask someone who knows nothing about racing if they have heard of Jeff Gordon. I just asked my 80-year-old mom, who has never watched NASCAR … and she knew who Jeff Gordon was (and I bet your mom knows who he is, too!), and commented that he’s very attractive, for whatever that’s worth.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s NASCAR attendance and TV numbers were both soaring. Even while at the peak of his own career, Gordon was the one who strongly urged Rick Hendrick to add a relatively unknown California surfer kid/off-road racer to his Cup Series lineup. A guy by the name of Jimmie Johnson.
In 2015, Rick Hendrick said: “There’s simply no way to quantify Jeff’s impact, he’s one of the biggest sports stars of a generation, and his contributions to the success and growth of NASCAR are unsurpassed. There’s been no better ambassador for stock car racing and no greater representation of what a champion should be.”
It’s not just on the track where he left his mark. In 1999, Gordon established the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer research and treatment and has granted more than $22 million to support children battling cancer. Additionally, the foundation provides support to the Jeff Gordon Children’s Center in Concord, North Carolina, which serves children regardless of their ability to pay. As a racer, he would have a leukemia patient down in the pits at every race. Later in his career he had his “Drive to End Hunger” sponsorship campaign raise money and awareness about issues such as chronic hunger among many of the nation’s elderly.
Since retirement he has stayed involved in the sport as a co-owner of the #48 and equity stake holder in the #24 cars, an analyst on NASCAR on Fox, and Vice Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports. He even got back together with his old crew chief Ray Evernham and raced in the Porsche Carrera Cup at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this fall.
About The Amelia
Now in its 28th year, The Amelia is a multiple award-winning motoring event held March 2–5, 2023, at The Golf Club of Amelia Island and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Luxury shopping, auctions, new vehicle reveals and experiential drives, exclusive gatherings, and entertaining seminars surround Saturday’s Cars & Community and Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance. Between Saturday and Sunday, you can expect to see over 700 cars on display. Tickets For the 2023 Amelia are available now including options for upgraded ticket packages. Hagerty Drivers Club members receive 20 percent off! You can still apply to enter your car in the Amelia Concours and other car shows. Visit www.ameliaconcours.com.
Thursday 2 March
6:30 pm – 10:30 pm: The Annual Porsche Winemaker’s Dinner
Friday 3 March
7:00 am – 4:30 pm: Porsche Driving Experience
3:00 pm – 4:30 pm: Seminar – “Corvette at Le Mans” w/ Ray Evernham, Justin Bell, Ron Fellows, Jordan Taylor, and Dan Binks
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm: Friday Film – The Quest
Saturday 4 March
9:00 am – 1:30 pm: Cars & Community – Over 550 vehicles and fun for the entire family, all on the same field as the Sunday Concours d’Elegance, including:
- RADwood, featuring totally awesome vehicles of the ’80s and ’90s and a costume contest for the coveted Raddest Dressed award
- Concours d’Lemons, a fan favorite celebration of over 50 oddball and unexceptional cars
- Cars & Caffeine, check out curated vehicles from across the country
- Kids Zone, with free automotive activities designed just for kids
- Ride & Drives, free and open to the public, first come first serve
- Bavarian beer garden and concessions of various cuisines available for purchase
10:30 am – 12:00 pm: Seminar – “Jeff Gordon: The Hendrick Motorsports Years” hosted by Ray Evernham
6:30 pm – 10:00 pm: Honoree Dinner w/ Jeff Gordon
Sunday 5 March
9:30 am – 4:30 pm: Concours d’Elegance: Over 260 of the most impressive vehicles from across the globe vying for awards in 32 car classes, free ride & drives, youth zone with free automotive activities, and Bavarian beer garden with various cuisines and concessions available for purchase. Featured classes include: Le Mans Winners, 125th Anniversary of Buick, and Fiberglass Racing Spyders—Porsche.
The Amelia is fully loaded with something for everybody. Bring the whole family for automotive fun that will delight all ages, get behind the wheel of a cool car, take a look at some of the world’s most impressive vehicles at Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance including many of Jeff Gordon’s former race cars, and more. Every ticket purchased for the Sunday Amelia Concours d’Elegance automatically includes complimentary admission to Saturday’s Cars & Community event.
Jeff Gordon is simultaneously an all-American, clean-cut, wildly successful racer, and a cutthroat competitor. If you want to see a bit of his personality, check out the two crazy hidden-camera Pepsi ads he did.
In Part 1 he about scares a car salesman to death with his wild test drive.
In Part 2 he was able to terrify an automotive journalist who didn’t believe the first ad was real.
Jeff Gordon has always been more than a driver; he is an icon. And now he’s the 2023 Honoree at The Amelia. Come join us in Amelia, Florida, in March just an 1.5-hour drive from where Jeff Gordon won the Daytona 500 three times. He shared with Hagerty: “It’s an honor to be recognized at such an incredible event that blends car culture, car enthusiasts, beautiful cars, and high-performance vehicles. And for us to be able to showcase cars that have been such a huge part of my career will make the weekend that much more memorable for me.”
When they started driving fake “stock cars”, I pretty much lost interest in NASCAR, but I always found some respect for Jeff Gordon. He really was/is so much more than a great racecar driver, and one would have to be blind to not see that. I don’t live close to any stock car venues, but I did see him race live a few times at tracks I visited, and it was always surprising to see and hear how much the crowds loved (or hated) him. I have a good friend (known him since the mid-sixties) who still wears his Gordon #24 hats even today, well after Jeff retired. This guy is about as rough and tough as they come, so that proves that Gordon doesn’t just appeal to the ladies! 😋