Gordon's talent in a race...
Gordon's talent in a race car is well known.
Frank Kerr stands in the middle of the shop at Robby Gordon Motorsports. The building is freshly scrubbed. The floor shines. The new cars are immaculate in their liveries of black, red, or yellow. This is the car chief's empire.
It is Friday of the Memorial Day weekend, and, in one corner of the shop, a team is doing a teardown on a Monte Carlo that smacked the wall at Lowe's Motor Speedway during practice before the previous night's qualifying. The crew already knows what went wrong, but now the team needs to come up with a failsafe plan to be sure it doesn't happen again.
The cars are machines. But the people who build them aren't. And one of them made an error that cost the team a good qualifying spot, forcing Gordon into an untested backup car.
Gordon walked away unscathed. The only thing bruised as a result of the crash is the team's pride, and that hurts deeply.
The boss expects 100 percent. That's the only way Gordon knows how to live.
He is perhaps the most versatile racer since Mario Andretti. Gordon has competed and won in sports cars, stock cars, off-road cars, endurance racing, and the grueling Dakar desert race in Africa.
Today he is challenging NASCAR's trend of big-box racing factories by becoming a driver/owner, a rarity in a sport founded a half century ago by exactly that type of competitor.
There's little elbow room...
There's little elbow room in the cramped shop of Robby Gordon Motorsports.
"Robby is learning a whole new side to the racing business," says Richard Childress, Gordon's former car owner. Childress has been there and done that, and was smart enough to get out of the car to run his racing business.
Is Gordon a lot like the Childress of 30 years ago?
"Naw," Childress answers "He's a whole lot more talented behind the wheel than I ever was.
"But he's probably just as stubborn."
Talented, passionate, and stubborn. Ask anyone who knows Gordon to describe him, and those are the words that come immediately to mind. Gordon smiles at the praise but bristles at the implication he is stubborn.
"I had a lot of people trying to tell me what I should do with my life," Gordon says."They said 'don't go open-wheel racing, don't go to Indy, don't go off-road racing.' The reason I started my own team is because I didn't want other people telling me what to do."
It's the opening laps of the rain- and crash-delayed 1997 Indianapolis 500. Gordon comes around Turn 4 with his foot planted to the floor of his open-wheel car. Suddenly, he shuts down the motor, pulls onto the infield grass, and jumps out of the car before the wheels stop turning.
He hits the rain-soaked grass and begins rolling in agony as invisible methanol flames attack his body.
Since it's a start-up team,...
Since it's a start-up team, many members of Robby Gordon Motorsports are young guys who came looking for a chance.
Within an hour he is back along pit road, arguing with his team owner to put him back in the car. Burns or no burns, he wants to race.
The medics say no, and Gordon is sidelined for a month while he recovers from second- and third-degree burns.
Gordon grew up working in his father's Southern California feed business during the day and helping his dad, off-road legend "Baja Bob" Gordon, build off-road racers in the family shop at night.
Gordon won the first off-road race he entered and went on to become a six-time SCORE/HDRA Off-Road champion, including five titles in a row from 1986-'90. He earned the SCORE Off-Road Trophy Truck class championship in 1996. He won the Baja 1000 as co-driver with his father in 1987 and won it by himself in 1989.
He signed with Jack Roush to run sports cars and won five GTO races in 1991. During the 1990-'91 IMSA seasons, Gordon had 18 Top-5s in 23 starts, finishing outside the Top 10 only twice. He also drove to four consecutive class victories in the Rolex 24 hours at Daytona from 1990 to 1993.