He may have even topped himself this time. If you haven’t heard the latest from Robby’s So Cal garages, sit down with an adult beverage and enjoy some bench-racing.
How popular is Gordon outside of racing? This story broke originally on the TV show and website TMZ (www.TMZ.com), a celebrity haunt which has a slightly different take on the world of gossip. They seem to actually like celebs. You’ve probably checked it out or seen the show. If not, you should. I find it a lot of fun and certainly different from the usual boring waterfall of hate being spewed-out in droves in the usual print and web venues.
And a point or two (mostly concerning “all-natural” which the kids might do better skipping over until they reach junior high); Extenze, if you’ve not heard, is, according to the company, “a herbal nutritional supplement claiming to promote natural male enhancement", and y’all know what that means. Well, at least should, now, by your age. So, friends and fans, here’s how it goes in racing in 2011. And, anyway, it’s a fun story with which to start the New Year, right? There’s plenty of time for the new Indy chassis and engines, the new Busch Series race car and God-knows-what-else we’ll be discussing a month from now.
The legendary (and for good reason) A.J. Foyt is considered one of the greatest, if not outright greatest racer of them all. Apart from his competitive and strategic abilities and strength of mind and body (which seem preternatural, and thanks to Anne Rice for that word), there’s also that Foyt has won more races in more different venues than any other driver, excepting perhaps Mario Andretti. Last time we checked, at least.
One more Indy tid-bit about Gordon; Robby ran out of fuel with two laps to go in the 1999 Indy 500, a race he had been leading. Kenny Brack was the defending IRL series champion and took that win. In that race, Gordon managed, by quite literally the lack of a cup of fuel or so, to lose the Indy 500 driving for his original IndyCar owner – A.J. Foyt.
And here’s where talk of Gordon’s “greatness” comes into serious play: Foyt has not only competed in, and often won, at road racing (LeMans 24 Hours of LeMans, Trans-Am and more), the Indianapolis 500, the Dakar Rally, the Baja 1000, FIA Rallying and all forms of NASCAR, both off- and on-track. Email me if I’ve left any out. He’s currently, this very day, in the Dakar race, where, as in recent years, he’s piloting a hand-prepared $175,000 Hummer look-alike. Even the Pope has personally appealed to the promoters to ban this event. This year “the Dakar” (whose venue has been changed in recent years away from running between the Eiffel Tower and the city of Dakar, Senegal) is being held in South America; maybe it’s to throw-off the Pope a bit while he peruses the morning sports pages in the Roman dailies.
Gordon has even been spoken highly (and loudly) of when it comes to Formula 1 race teams on their continual search for new drivers. He’d be the only American currently in the F1 mix.
But the genius of someone like Foyt, and there are damn few, is that he knows exactly where and when to turn it on and off. And why…and how.
It was 1979 when there was a bit of a dispute after NASCAR’s Daytona 500 that year, a race which just had, for the very first time, been shown live on one of America’s then-three national networks (this one was on CBS – they’d apparently drawn the short straw, but it’s paid-off in, literally, billions for everyone involved in racing who stuck with it, as the behemoth of NASCAR Inc., was created). Robby working his souvenir stand at one of the many venues where he competes; the fans have always liked him, but sometimes once they have to get passed and understand both his off-track antics and the seriousness and quality of his racing
NASCAR really got going as a nationally-recognized sport with that fistfight in February, 1979. And of course, it was one of those fights where, thankfully, no one was hurt.
Involved were Donnie Allison, Cale Yarborough, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, AJ Foyt Jr. (and he’s a good racer, too), Bobby Allison and several others. But it didn’t matter – it was the heat and the craziness and the strobes popping off in everyone’s brains, which got everyone at the track – and watching TV – flying. We couldn’t believe it! It also set Brent Musberger’s CBS announcing career atop a white hot nitro-fueled Minuteman missile which still hasn’t landed. You get the picture? At that moment, a new national sport was created in front of our eyes. Now that doesn’t happen every day!
AJ Foyt was not about to forget something like that; of course he’d been at Daytona that day and he’d finished third (Richard Petty won). And now, 18 years later, in Texas, here’s ol’ AJ with the chance to help his old buddy, IRL founder Tony George, whose new open-wheel series was sinking, and fast. One can imagine Foyt leaning over to Arie on the award’s stand, whispering, “Sorry, buddy … but we’re going have to have a go at this! We only have about 30 seconds left!”
And if that did happen, I’m sure Luyendyk went right along with nary a protest.
Whoever saw it on live TV that day will never forget Foyt physically jumping Arie Luyndeyk, a very decent open- and closed-wheel driver and now team owner, and nice guy, on that Texas awards stand. Foyt acted (?) as if he took some serious umbrage to Arie’s claim that his own driver was the actual victor. And that legendary Texan umbrage from a legendary Texan did indeed manifest itself – physically. It lasted perhaps all of 15 seconds, if that long. But boy, it got the job done, just like at Daytona in 1979. No one could talk about anything at the water cooler throughout the coming week except for Foyt attacking Arie (no one could pronounce Luyendyk’s last name).
Everything about it was near-perfect … the timing, the venue and so much more, and Foyt saw the moment for what it was: an opportunity for the IRL to get some extra publicity when it was sorely needed.
The live CBS-TV feed was still up-and-running, people were tuning-in for the next CBS show (which if I remember correctly might have been “60 Minutes,” the network’s perpetual #1 smash hit, as it still is), and it was “the” fistfight which put the IRL on the national sports map. Walk into any NASCAR-type gathering and mention “the fight” and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about.
Now this latest “El Gordon-o” incident is happening off-track and in boardrooms, but nonetheless it’s having its desired effect. It’s making Gordon even more well-known (hard to imagine in the world of racing). And Gordon, as skilled as Foyt, perhaps, in these things, knows that it’s also wise sometimes to sit back and let the whirlwind surround you rather than trying to create one yourself from all the varied, swooshing, flying elements.
Basically, it’s a legal dispute between Gordon’s team, Robby Gordon Motorsports (www.robbygordon.com) and the parent company (is that three jokes?) of Extenze. Extenze remains heavily involved in NASCAR Busch Series sponsorship and who knows? They may even work out something for the future with Gordon for 2011.
Gordon has filed a lawsuit against Extenze for $690,000, because according to him, the company refuses to pay for its sponsorship. Extenze, on the other hand, contends Gordon committed a breach of contract, because in some races, Gordon was in the car instead of driver Kevin Conway, the driver Extenze purportedly wanted in the car.
There’s been some backroom movement between the companies and teams involved, according to Sports Illustrated and Gordon’s website. And with any luck everyone will be able to work things out the way they were originally intended to be.
But with the NASCAR season just starting for 2011, Robby Gordon once again sits in the middle of a maelstrom without having to do anything except pay his attorneys.
I’ve known Gordon since he was growing-up in Orange, CA., and knew his dad, Bob Gordon, called in off-roading “the chicken farmer” because of the then semi-rural nature of Gordon’s home. He quickly moved up in the amateur and then professional off-road ranks which, in Southern California, were tough for any young driver. This was 20 or 30 years ago, and So Cal provided probably the toughest off-road racing training in the world (remember – Baja is still only 100 miles-or-so from Orange).
Robby hits the dunes somewhere in this world
So there he goes into a new season; Dakar almost under his belt for 2011, Baja coming soon and then, in just another six weeks or so, the Daytona 500. And won’t Gordon and company have plenty to talk about there, with those NASCAR cameras on him and his team already garnering some major national publicity.
And that's all good for the driver, team, sponsors and the sport. And let’s be honest- people like me, too.
And let me say just one final word: “Marketing”.
Good luck to Gordon and all the drivers and team members as the 2011 season for all of worldwide racing swings into view.