He won’t race Le Mans, but Jeff Gordon wants to make his 2023 debut at another famed track
Though he will pass on driving in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as part of NASCAR’s Garage 56 project, Jeff Gordon says his racing days likely will continue.
The four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion is eager to make his debut at Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca in the Porsche Deluxe Carrera Cup North America race weekend Sept. 29-Oct. 1. It’s the headlining event of the Porsche Rennsport Reunion VII at the track.
Racing at the famed road course in Monterey, California, has been a dream for Gordon, who grew up a couple of hours north in Vallejo.
“We’re still looking at it,” Gordon said during a Feb. 8 news conference to promote being honored next month by The Amelia 2023 event. “I’ve never raced at that track, and going back home to my home state, it’s a track that’s always been on my radar. I don’t know if we’ll be able to pull it off with the schedule.”
Gordon again would be teamed with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Ray Evernham, his crew chief partner for three championships in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Last September, Gordon entered the IMSA-sanctioned Porsche Carrera Cup at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. In a field of 33 Porsche 911 GT3 cars, Gordon made two starts and nearly scored a top 10 (including a final-lap pass “that made my whole weekend” in the second race).
Though he improved over the course of the weekend, the event also was a wake-up call for Gordon, who hadn’t raced competitively since being part of the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona winning team with Wayne Taylor Racing.
“The real realization that I came to when we did the event last year at Indianapolis is that this is not a retired guy’s series,” Gordon, 51, said with a laugh. “These guys take it very serious; they put a lot of effort into it. And when I got on the track the first time and was getting my butt kicked, I realized I had to jump it into another gear and put a whole other level of effort into it, which was not the intent of that event. It was to have fun.
“But we managed to find a way to pick up the speed and have fun by the end of the event. So I just realized you’ve got to go, and you’ve got to test and put a lot of time into the car and the track and everything. So we’ll see if (the Laguna Seca) event ends up happening.”
Gordon’s return to competitive racing came as he mulled joining the lineup for Garage 56, a joint project between Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR, Goodyear and Chevrolet that will put a Next Gen Camaro in the 100th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Though Rick Hendrick had wanted to put Gordon in the seat, the three-driver lineup for Garage 56 was announced last month with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button. Hendrick Motorsports president Jeff Andrews said Gordon was “really good with the decision” given the quality of the lineup.
Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who is overseeing Garage 56, said Gordon “wanted to be a part of it if he needed to be a part of it.
“Obviously, Jeff is a tremendous asset to us,” Knaus said last month after the lineup announcement at Daytona International Speedway. “So he’s given a lot of guidance as we’ve spoken to Jimmie and talked to Rocky. But as you line up these guys who are currently active, and Jeff hasn’t been super active, and with the credentials these guys bring, he’s like, ‘Man, I think I know what I need to be doing,’ and that’s what he’s doing is helping guide us through all of this.”
Gordon, who moved into the role of vice chairman and co-owner at Hendrick Motorsports in June 2021, will be at Le Mans this year in an executive capacity after attending last year’s race for the first time.
“It was just spectacular,” he said. “And especially this year, the 100th anniversary to be a part of that with the Garage 56 partnership with NASCAR and Chevrolet and Goodyear and Hendrick. That’s something that’s really, really special, even though I won’t be driving in that event.”
Being on a colorful and exotic grid jam-packed with GTs and prototypes appeals more to Gordon now. He credits the automotive passions of Evernham and Hendrick with turning him into “a car guy” since his 2015 retirement from full-time driving.
“I’m finding this niche and place for myself where I still want to drive the cars and am fascinated by the way cars perform on the track,” he said. “But also the collecting side of the car and building my own collection of cars I admired as a kid or a car I’m admiring today.
“That’s making this job fun for me is I get to be a part of the competition and play a role in the business side of Hendrick Motorsports, but I also get to spread my wings into other areas of the car culture whether it be through General Motors or Hendrick Automotive Group. Or to do projects like Ray and I last year at the IMSA sports car event at Indy and The Amelia.”
Gordon will be the guest of honor March 2-5 at The Golf Club of Amelia Island, Florida, for the 28th annual Amelia Concours D’Elegance (which will present awards to 250 historically significant cars nominated across 32 classes). The Amelia also will feature Evernham, who is helping honor Gordon and also leading a panel on the Corvette at Le Mans.
Though he is “winding down” his car collection, Evernham said he has become interested in vintage Ferraris and also cars from IROC (the all-star series where he started as a mechanic 40 years ago). The legendary crew chief also is anxious to work again at the track with Gordon.
“Jeff is very special in my life like a little brother,” Evernham said. “We met in 1990 and had that magic almost immediately.
“I’m waiting for my buddy Jeff to give us a (racing) schedule. I had to learn pretty quickly about this Porsche Carrera Cup racing and some other things he wants to do. We had a great time last year when we did the Indy event, and I’m looking forward to doing a few more fun things with Jeff. We had a little bit of a play day up at (Virginia International Raceway). We’re having fun maintaining (his vintage cars) and being ready to go to the racetrack again with him.”