Jeff Gordon is 47, with his racing days in his past and his NASCAR Hall of Fame induction in his near future, in February. But there is one thing that he said might lure him back into a stock car: a track in the immediate New York City area.
“Man, I would give anything,” he told Newsday on Thursday. “That might even bring me back to driving if we had a track at the Meadowlands.”
There has been talk of that over the decades, and more recently of a site on Staten Island. But none of it has resulted in an actual venue, so for now the Poconos, Dover, Delaware, and upstate Watkins Glen remain as close as the sport’s top circuit gets.
Gordon thinks that is a pity.
“Going down to Teterboro (Airport) from time to time, going by the Meadowlands all the time and seeing all the things they’re building that are all sports-related, I just wish we could have figured out a way to get a race track there, especially a short track,” he said. “You look at the schedule and we desperately want another short track.”
Gordon knows the area well. Although he spends most of his time in North Carolina, he has an apartment in Manhattan, visits the Hamptons in the summer and said both of his children were born in New York.
Thursday he spoke at a Financial Planning Association of Long Island event, part of Nationwide’s sponsorship of Hendrick Motorsports, where Gordon works in addition to his role as a Fox analyst. “I think it’s fitting for me to talk about retirement and planning for the future,” he said with a laugh.
While on a percentage basis New York always is among the lowest-rated television markets for NASCAR, in pure number of viewers it is among the highest because of the market’s vast size.
“The number of people watching in New York is huge,” Gordon said. “There are a tremendous number of fans . . . I think they wouldn’t have any problem filling the stands.”
Gordon said when he is walking around Manhattan he primarily is recognized in tourist-heavy areas such as Times Square, but he added, “I always joke and tell people most of the time I get recognized in New York is when I’m walking by a construction site. Those are our NASCAR fans in New York.”
Gordon said he has enjoyed his post-driving career — mostly.
“The only time I ever miss racing is when you see some drivers battling for a win in the closing laps to the finish line and you go, ‘Boy, that was fun getting a chance to do that,’” he said. “Nothing really replaces that. Otherwise not having to take all that risk is kind of refreshing now.”
He said TV work has been more enjoyable than he anticipated after three years.
“But I think some aspects of it are more challenging than I expected,” he said. “Like if you’re planning for an interview and you want to make it comfortable for the person you’re interviewing. You want to try to get them to open up, you want to try and bring something new and unique to it. That definitely is out of my comfort zone.
“The actual broadcasting once the race is live and the race goes green, that part has gone really well because it’s live and exciting. There’s adrenaline. It’s more natural to me because I feel like putting myself behind the wheel of the racecar in those moments.”
Working for Hendrick keeps him involved in the competition end of the sport, giving him the best of both worlds.
After a peak of popularity in the early-to-mid-2000s, NASCAR has faced attendance and TV ratings challenges in recent years. What can be done about it?
“That’s a tough question to answer,” Gordon said. “Obviously, there are more eyes on the sport today than I think there’s ever been. It’s just through mobile devices as well as TV and other outlets. But it’s hard to recognize within ratings how that impacts the sport and sponsors.
“And I think what we’re seeing is things are changing with how people are being entertained and how they want to go about their Sunday, whether it be coming to a race or watching on TV.
“I still think that there are so many great aspects and positive things to the quality of racing as well as the talent. But we have to grow with the times and get the drivers and the people on the teams to be more outgoing as far as social media, standing out and spreading the word as well as maintaining great performance on track.
“I think there are some moves being made for next year that will make the racing very entertaining with the rules package. I think that we have to really understand where our core fan base is. We’ve lost some of them. Some of it is through growth. We went to new tracks and new markets and I think some of the core fans felt a little bit left out. I see where they’re making a big push to regain their trust and confidence.
“The number one thing is getting people to the racetrack. If you come to the racetrack you’re instantly a NASCAR fan. It’s such a cool experience. We have to figure out ways to get the kids there, making sure it’s kid-friendly.
“Do we do anything to shorten the schedule, shorten the races? I’m not sure. But it’s all being looked at. I do think that it’s a long season. It starts in February and ends the middle of November. I don’t know if in this day and age we can go up against the NFL the way we do.”