Sunday, June 28, 2015

93-year-old Jeff Gordon fan watches Farewell Tour from afar

SONOMA, CA -- The typical NASCAR fan is male, married, about 40 years old, knows the King as Richard Petty not LeBron James and wears 50 shades of redneck.

Phyllis Gould is not your typical NASCAR fan. No siree. She is female, widowed, 93 years old … Did I say 93 years old? Yup. She thinks Jeff Gordon is the bomb and she has been in the Oval Office in the White House.

OK, she doesn’t much care for brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch which doesn’t make her an atypical NASCAR fan, but you get the point. 

When Jeff Gordon’s Farewell Tour stopped with its “Hometown Hero” kissfest in Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, Phyllis was home in Fairfax, California getting sentimental from the comfort of her living room, watching the race on TV. She could have gotten a ticket to go and she can still drive her 1987 Ford Ranger pick-up with a five-speed stick shift any place she pleases, but Phyllis doesn’t do NASCAR race days.

“I like all sports and the older I got, the more time I spent watching TV, and NASCAR kind of punched my button,” Phyllis told me nine years ago we first met. “It kind of seeped into my being.”

For the past 15 years, Phyllis has religiously watched stock car races from start to finish and she has followed Gordon all the way since she was first taken by the bright, colorful No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet car he drove in his “Rainbow Warriors” days. It was NASCAR love at first brake.

“That kind of drew me in,” she said. “The more I watched him, the more into the whole thing I got.”
Phyllis even had a Jeff Gordon poster tacked above her bed.  Seriously. This sort of fanaticism caught the attention of John Cardinale, the late, great media relations guru at Sonoma Raceway, who in 2006 arranged for Phyllis to come to the track to meet her favorite driver in person.

To Phyllis, then 84 years old and grandmother of seven, this was akin to a pre-teen girl meeting Taylor Swift. Phyllis posed for a photo with the Wonder Boy and turned the photo op into a personal custom-made T-shirt. 

Four years later, Phyllis and Gordon met again in the garage area at Sonoma Raceway and he autographed that very T-shirt, therefore potentially increasing its value exponentially on eBay.

“Actually,” Phyllis told me this week, “I was as excited to see you as I was him.”

However, when it comes to fantasy meetings, Gordon now takes a back seat to Joe Biden. Last year, Biden answered a personal letter Phyllis, who is a four-year cancer survivor, sent to Vice President suggesting that she and the five other surviving members of the industrial workers dubbed “Rosie the Riveters” – female riveters who worked for $1.25 an hour as welders, electricians and draftsman at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, CA during World War II – be acknowledged and recognized by the U.S. Government. Biden replied and invited Phyllis and her fellow “Rosies” to Washington, D.C.

“He said he would have lots of surprises and, oh man, did he!” Phyllis told me.
Biden took Phyllis on a tour of the White House then led her to the Oval Office where she met President Barack Obama and posed for yet another unforgettable photograph. The next day, Biden invited Phyllis and fellow “Rosies” to his house for breakfast.

Jeff Gordon never did that.

However, Phyllis doesn’t begrudge the one-time Boy Wonder. In fact, she suspects she and Gordon will meet again, even though Gordon said he is retiring from full-time NASCAR racing after this season.

“He’ll race some more races,” Phyllis predicts. “His little boy (son Leo, who is almost five years old) is just on the edge of remembering him racing. I know Jeff would want his son to win a race.”

And Phyllis would root for him all the way.


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