Retired NASCAR star Jeff Gordon talks life in the slightly slower lane

CHARLOTTE — Thirty years ago, a rookie driver named Jeff Gordon ran his first race for the NASCAR team owned by Hendrick Motorsports. Within several seasons, Gordon developed into a championship driver while creating an on-track rivalry with hard-nosed racer Dale Earnhardt Sr.

[Trip with Gordon paid dividends for Byron at Martinsville]

Gordon’s Hall of Fame career included four-season championships. But by the time he retired in 2015, racing had endured the Great Recession, which hit NASCAR’s blue-collar, rural fan base hard. In recent years, the sport has seen glimmers of hope for a rebound with fans, sparked by a newfound willingness to experiment with road courses, dirt tracks and a one-off conversion of a football stadium into a racetrack.

As for Gordon, who became a minority owner in Hendrick Motorsports in 1999, he’s turned his interest to the business of racing in a focused way. In January, he became vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, taking on a full-time, day-to-day role that puts him side by side with founder and majority owner Rick Hendrick and Marshall Carlson, president of the race team. (Gordon remains Hendrick’s lone outside investor.)

The move was announced last June, while Gordon was finishing his sixth season as a NASCAR race analyst for Fox Sports.

Gordon, 50, has known Carlson, who is Hendrick’s son-in-law, since Carlson was in high school and dating Hendrick’s daughter. And Gordon has long described Hendrick as a friend and father figure.

Beyond close personal ties, Gordon has aligned himself with what remains NASCAR’s version of the New York Yankees. Hendrick Motorsports has won 14 season titles, more than any other team, and holds the record for most points-paying wins. The team’s headquarters in Concord encompasses 430,000 square feet spread across 12 buildings on 140 acres. The company has 600 employees.

After a recent appearance at the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club, where he shared tales of doing battle with Earnhardt and others, Gordon spoke with CBJ about making the transition from athlete to TV analyst to team executive. Read excerpts from that conversation here.

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