DOVER — With his impending retirement, Jeff Gordon said he’s been trying to figure out what to give the important people in his life.
Well, officials at Dover International Speedway gave the veteran NASCAR driver a hand on Friday.
They presented Gordon with a wall of replica Monster trophies — 90 in all — each one inscribed with a different team member’s name and a quote from legendary football coach Vince Lombardi.
“The achievments of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual,” read the inscription.
“Denis, you guys just helped me out a lot,” Gordon joked with Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn. “These guys are going to appreciate this very, very much.”
Of course, there was plenty of appreciation to be spread around as Dover honored Gordon on the start of his last race weekend as a driver at the Monster Mile.
The 44-year-old is stepping down as a driver after this season.
A few local politicians were on hand to read proclamations in Gordon’s honor.
Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen named him an honorary citizen of the city.
“It is our hope that this will always be a place where Jeff Gordon and his family feel welcome and call home,” Christiansen read.
With DuPont as his main sponsor early in his career, Delaware always was something of a home-away-from-home for the Callifornia-born Gordon.
Dover International felt like his hometown track, too, when Gordon posted five Sprint Cup victories on this track. Only four other drivers — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Jimmie Johnson — have as many wins at Dover.
Three of those victories came in a memorable four-race stretch in 1995-96.
“I’ve always enjoyed Dover,” said Gordon. “Especially with these presentations, it does remind me of how much Dover and the state of Delaware has meant for me personally and for our team. Coming here to Wilmington every single year and visiting with all the employees at DuPont. ... it’s always special coming here.
“You always want to have success in your sponsor’s home and backyard. And we did that from the beginning. It always made coming here that much more special.”
Gordon’s Dover success, of course, only helped fuel his NASCAR notoriety.
Whether fans loved or hated him, they usually had a reaction to Gordon when he was on the track.
“Our sport owes a lot to Jeff,” said McGlynn. “He created an enormous amount of energy and attention when he arrived on the NASCAR scene in the early 90’s. His rivalry with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. filled grandstand seats, drove TV ratings and elevated NASCAR’s relevancy in the sports world. He was, and is, a great champion and he’s earned every bit of the respect he enjoys today.”
McGlynn can also remember Gordon sitting at the wheel of the pavement grinder when Dover switched to concrete in 1994 or being on hand for the dedication of the Monster Monument.
“We still consider him our hometown favorite,” said McGlynn. “He created a lot of fans for us and we’re happy he’ll continue to be part of our sport in the years ahead.”
It was only last September that Gordon posted Dover win No. 5. He’d love to pick up one more Monster trophy — a genuine one — on Sunday afternoon.
Gordon enters the weekend 10th in the points standings.
Of course, what Gordon would really love is to win the last Cup race of his career, at Homstead, Fla., in the Sprint Cup season finale.
“That would be fantastic,” he said.
As for the end of his driving career being just over the horizon now, Gordon said he’s pretty good at blocking out those emotions. He doesn’t think it will really hit him until Homestead.
“Still, the focus is very competitive driven and that is where my thoughts and emotions are right now,” said Gordon. “Homestead, no matter what is happening there, whether we are going for a championship or not, it’s going to be hard to hold that back — especially when that checkered flag waves.”