DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Jeff Gordon doesn’t just pay attention to details.
He’s a details hound – meticulous, precise – even for a guy who’s retired.
“I never said I was retiring,” Gordon said.
That was a big detail to remember Friday as Gordon drove a sleek, new Cadillac prototype on a sun-drenched Daytona International Speedway.
He turned laps on the road course in preparation for the upcoming Rolex 24, the twice-around-the-clock pinnacle of American sports car racing. The race isn’t until Jan. 28-29, but Gordon needs all of the track time he can get right now.
“I treat this as if I am a rookie,” said the 45-year-old Gordon, a description that’s profound, even if it’s inaccurate.
His “rookie” stripes are obscured by his numbers.
Before he stopped racing full-time after the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Gordon won 93 races and three Daytona 500s.
And combined with his four championships, Gordon’s resume makes him a sure-fire, first-ballot NASCAR Hall of Famer when eligible.
But Gordon knows that one superlative is lacking from his racing resume — a coveted Rolex 24 win. His only Rolex start came in 2007, when he finished third overall as a member of Wayne Taylor Racing. Ten years later, he’s back with Taylor, co-driving the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with veteran Max Angelelli and Taylor’s sons, Ricky and Jordan.
And it’s not a joy ride for Gordon, whose full-time racing career ended after the 2015 NASCAR season.
“I’m pushing myself to be as strong as I can possibly be,” Gordon said. “I never like to be the weak link in an organization or a team and I have three phenomenal drivers who are going to push me. I’m enjoying it very much and having fun, but this is a race I’d like to win.”
That presents a special challenge for Gordon, who quickly learned last November that IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship racing isn’t easy. When he first tested the new Cadillac at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, he was stunned by the G-forces, the acceleration, the braking.
The ever-fit Gordon knew he had so step up his physical fitness to meet the challenge, so he’s now doing sessions with a personal trainer over the internet two or three times a week.
Every detail matters.
“You can see why he’s found success, because he focuses on every aspect of what goes in the race,” said Jordan Taylor, one of the IMSA’s top young drivers and 20 years Gordon’s junior. “He’s extremely humble. He came in with questions. We were expecting to ask HIM questions for ideas and stuff, which we do, but he was asking us straight away what to expect in our world of sports car racing, how to work traffic, how to work cold tires, cold brakes, restarts.
“Even today, we were on pit road and he was asking questions about different cars and what to expect.”
When it comes to Jordan Taylor, Gordon knows exactly what to expect – the unexpected. The youngest Taylor is an unabashed prankster — the clown prince of IMSA, if you will — and nobody is beyond his social media tomfoolery.
Not even the winningest NASCAR driver of his generation.
On Thursday, Jordan tried to prank Gordon by dressing up as a superfan, resplendent in the iconic rainbow jacket, mustache and jorts.
The video was going to go viral for sure.
“I figured he’d seen that a million times and I’d just blend into the crowd, but he saw it coming and kind of ruined my day,” Jordan said.
“You got to watch out for that guy,” said Gordon, who appreciates how the Taylors are making this experience fun for him.
But there’s only one kind of fun that Gordon truly loves. It’s the fun that comes when you win the race and hoist the trophy and bask in the voluminous confetti that covers the victors.
“I want to have fun, but I really am only going to be having fun and have a smile on my face if we’re on that podium in the No. 1 position when the race is over,” Gordon said.
That’s the most important detail of them all.