Thursday, August 09, 2007

Robby Gordon, "I'm a whack". The Baja 1000 racer.

By Chuck Burton, AP

No hard feelings: Robby Gordon and Marcos Ambrose played Busch Series bumper tag last Saturday, but can laugh about it four days later. Gordon made an unusual peace offering, giving Ambrose a Nextel Cup ride for Sunday's event at Watkins Glen.
He wasn't old enough to rent a car at Orlando International Airport, so he hailed a cab to reach Sebring International Raceway — which was 90 miles away. Upon arrival, he strapped into a sports car for the first time and was on pace with road-course ace Dorsey Schroeder by the second lap. He begged a Ford official to borrow a car afterward and raced back to the airport to catch a flight to Los Angeles, where he attended a banquet to collect a check for an off-road championship.

Robby Gordon caught a red-eye back to Florida, drove straight to Sebring and clocked laps faster than the previous day. Dan Davis, director of Ford Racing Technology, chuckled when a colleague recently recounted the story of how Gordon, then 19, earned the first major-league ride of a career often as brilliant as it has been bullheaded. "He's a dog with a bone, and he'll wrestle that bone and bury it and dig it back up and bury it again," said Davis, who oversees Ford's Nextel Cup Series program. "Robby doesn't back down from anything."

That includes NASCAR, and Gordon's stubbornness with the sanctioning body flared again last week in the Busch Series race at Montreal. For repeatedly disobeying a black flag and staging an outlaw victory celebration replete with a defiant, nose-thumbing burnout, Gordon was parked at Pocono Raceway, fined $35,000 and warned one more transgression will trigger an indefinite suspension.

But the dogged persistence that has punished Gordon also has pushed him into a precedent-setting position in NASCAR's premier series. The 38-year-old is the only single-car driver-owner remaining in Cup and has been competitive this season against multicar organizations with four times the budget and staff of his 58-person team. In a recent six-race stretch from Dover International Speedway to Daytona International Speedway, Gordon gained more points positions (nine) than anyone but Casey Mears, who also comes from a long line of off road racing, while climbing to 24th in the standings.

The versatile driver who has won in Indy cars, stock cars, sports cars, desert racing & Baja racing trucks and dune buggies will enter this weekend as a threat to sweep the Busch and Cup races at Watkins Glen International, and he believes his maverick ways eventually will make him a weekly contender. "There's no one like me," said Gordon, who is making an unconventional peace offering to Marcos Ambrose, whom he spun out from the lead at Montreal, by fielding a car for the Australian's potential Cup debut at Watkins Glen. "I'm a whack! I eat, sleep, drink and poop racing, OK? Nobody in their right mind thinks about it as much as I do. If you just follow the way everyone else does it, you're never going to get ahead. We have our own way of doing things."

The uniqueness is evident in the driver motor home lot. At the track, Gordon lives in a custom-built, two-tiered tractor trailer with two bedrooms and a glassed-in conference room laden with flat-screen TVs that are elevated 4 feet to offer a suite-style view for entertaining sponsors. It's unlike any of the million-dollar buses housing his peers, and it shows the ingenuity upon which he prides himself. Gordon commissioned an engineer to devise a touch-screen software program so his team could track speeds on laptops. To ensure assembly-line efficiency, Robby Gordon Motorsports is installing monitors in its shop offering detailed instructions and photos for building cars in a format "no different than shopping at AutoZone," according to Gordon.
"I think of things that other people don't," he said.

Gordon said his creativity and organization stems from off-road racing, in which exotic locales and logistical hurdles necessitate extensive planning. He has eight crewmembers readying for his fourth consecutive attempt at the Dakar Rally, a two-week race spanning two continents. He will head to Portugal in January, six weeks after his Hummer and supplies are shipped. "When you cross the Strait of Gibraltar, if you didn't think of something a month and a half before, you don't have it," he said.

The Baja 1000 demands as much preparation. Gordon positions a 100-person chain along the Baja peninsula to provide pit support during the endurance race in the Mexican desert.
"All those things help with managing the stock car operation," he said. "We're gong to pull into the winner's circle."

Gordon's No. 7 Ford is ranked 29th in owner points, but Kyle Petty says the car has been better than its results. "He's still been impressive," Petty said. "A lot of people have questioned his decision-making, but no one has ever questioned his talent." Ford has encouraged Gordon to add a second car, but Davis isn't second-guessing whether Gordon can succeed without one.
"He's going up against a lot of multicar teams, and he's whipped them," Davis said. "On track, he doesn't make a whole lot of friends, and that's Robby. He runs a tight ship and demands a lot out of his employees and himself. He's absolutely tenacious at achieving his goals. I think he can make it."