Jeff Gordon on top of the pit stand. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

1-On-1: Jeff Gordon On New Challenges, HMS Expansion & More

Since his retirement from full-time driving in 2015, four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon has done everything but live a typical retirement life.

The 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee stepped out of the cockpit and into the broadcast booth for five seasons with FOX Sports, before taking on the role of vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports last season. 

In his new role, Gordon will be the successor to team owner Rick Hendrick once the 73-year-old decides to hang up the ownership hat. 

With Gordon’s leadership and forward vision, he’s been a driving force behind the team’s latest projects. Between the highly anticipated Garage 56 entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Kyle Larson’ commitment to run the 2024 Indianapolis 500, Gordon’s presence has been felt in an enormous way. 

Gordon discussed some of the challenges of his new role at Hendrick Motorsports with SPEED SPORT, and what may lie ahead for the organization.

Q: You’re entering your second year as vice chairman of HMS. What type of challenges did that first year present?

GORDON: It’s like being thrust into the Cup Series as a rookie driver in many ways. You have experience racing, you have a certain skillset that you feel like you bring, but you are learning so many new things and being challenged by things that you can never prepare yourself for.

So yeah, year one was a lot of fun, but very challenging, very time consuming, but I loved it. I loved sinking myself into the business more into Hendrick Motorsports, getting closer to the people there.

You get close to your race team, and the people that touch your race car over your career. But now being able to step away from just the driver role, now I get to get way more involved with the people in the marketing, PR department, the engine shop, the engineering and just on the floor.

I love that. I think because the people are what make a race team and what makes Hendrick Motorsports what it is. So I’m enjoying that, working closer with Jeff Andrews and Scott Lampe, Jake Backer, Jesse Essex and Chad Knaus.

These are the people that are leaders in their departments that make everything flow. So I’m really enjoying that, and I’m very serious about it. I know what it took to be successful as a racecar driver, which was a lot of hard work, as well as collaborating with great people and a great team.

That’s what I’m doing as the vice chairman, as much as I possibly can every day.

Alex Bowman (left), chats with Jeff Gordon during Daytona 500 qualifying. (HHP/Tom Copeland)

Q: HMS has branched out recently, with Garage 56 and Kyle Larson’s Indy 500 run next year. Beyond the next two years, how do you feel those opportunities can be a major benefit for both the team, and motorsports as a whole?

GORDON: Some of them are just opportunities that come along, or maybe bucket-list items for Rick. The Garage 56 program was something that Jim France really had this vision for, and we feel very fortunate to have partnered with him and Chevrolet and Goodyear.

It’s just been a tremendous project, as well as, it’s really showed us what we’re capable of, and that’s what we’re hoping for. Showing the rest of the world and people at Le Mans, not just what NASCAR is capable of with this race car, but what we’re capable of at Hendrick Motorsports to take on a challenge.

Because maybe a lot of people don’t realize this, even though it’s Garage 56 and we’re not racing with any other class. There are still targets of lap times, we want to run 24 hours. I mean, we’re taking components that have never been in a 24-hour race, and we’re having to make sure that the durability is there, as well as the speed, and then the driver lineup.

So, it’s been fantastic. I think what that does is it opens up the door for what other projects are out there that either is on Rick’s list, or that Hendrick Motorsports can move into.

I do believe in diversifying ourselves and we have a tremendous partner in Chevrolet. So, if it’s within Chevrolet that we can branch out and do other forms of, high performance, it doesn’t have to be racing, it could be just high performance, but we love motorsports, so maybe it isn’t racing.

Partnering with them on it, I think that’s the ultimate. But, I think we’re also seeing that our manufacturing ability and our engineering and just our skillsets are maybe broader than what we take to NASCAR. We’re doing this with the GM Defense project that we have going on too.

It’s exciting times. I mean, the Indy car thing, that started because Kyle Larson said, ‘Man, one day I would love to race in the Indy 500.’ I went to Rick and he’s like, ‘You know what, I’ve never been to the Indy 500. I’d like to be in the Indy 500, too.’ So, it just kind of spawned from that.

I think it’s about taking opportunities and seeing, ‘Do they make sense, how can we do it, and can we do it at a high level?’ Those things are exciting. Yeah, I would love to see us branch into more things. Not too much, I mean, our goal is NASCAR. Winning races, winning championships, being at the top of our field in NASCAR for as long as possible.

Jeff Gordon signs autographs for fans at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (HHP/Tim Parks)

Q: As someone who’s been around the sport, seen it change and grow in endless ways, what makes it still enjoyable to be involved with it as much as you are, even though it’s not the same role you entered the sport in?

GORDON: What I realized when I stepped away from driving, and it’s not easy to make that decision to step away from something you’ve done, basically, your whole life. I started racing when I was five and a half years old. I’d never envisioned a day when I wasn’t going to be doing it.

But I’ve been so fortunate along the way to make connections, to get myself into this tremendous position, to have equity stake in something that I helped build, but also made my career, which is Hendrick Motorsports.

I get to work in racing at a high level with NASCAR. The people that really, if I look back on it, that made Jeff Gordon who Jeff Gordon is. So, it’s the ultimate next step, or next chapter of my life is to still be associated with racing.

I even drive some cars every once in awhile, I did a sports car race last year. I don’t know if I’m going to do many more of those, but I do still enjoy getting in the car driving it, but more for fun, not for competition. So I feel like I have the ultimate.

I’ve got a family that is very supportive. But also I love seeing where they’re taking their lives and what their career may be later. I also get to work closer with Rick Hendrick. I mean, he’s like family to me. So I, if you can ever script, what the next chapter is by stepping out of driving and all the excitement that came along with that, this is it.

I got to work for FOX, that was great. It taught me a lot about broadcasting, TV about the sport from a different angle. Now I’m just applying all those things in this new role that I’m in.

To me, yeah, people probably are looking at, ‘Why is Jeff behind a desk in an office, on a daily basis working this hard. He’s supposed to be retired.’

This is what I want to do and I love it. I feel very fortunate to be able to have the opportunity to do it. Hopefully, I can make a difference, too, in the growth of Hendrick Motorsports, the growth of NASCAR and motorsports.