Jeff Gordon, the retiring NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and one of the most successful drivers in the history of car racing, was presented with the Bill France Award of Excellence after being introduced by Tom Cruise at the Wynn Las Vegas last night, as reported by Fox Sports. Gordon became choked up several times while making his speech, thanking his fans and his team, Hendrick Motorsports.
After Gordon was introduced by Tom Cruise, who is reported to be a NASCAR enthusiast, and Brian France, CEO and chairman of NASCAR, to applause from the audience, the retiring NASCAR veteran took the podium and addressed fans.
Jeff Gordon thanked and congratulated Kyle Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion.
“You’ve come a long ways from that kid wanting to get my autograph,” Gordon teased Busch. He then told Busch how proud he was of him, noting how he has grown, and how he has “handled adversity.”
Before the start of the 2015 season, Gordon had announced that 2015 would be his last year. During his acceptance speech he spoke about how some had encouraged him to continue and make it an “even 24.” The champ noted that he has been racing full time for almost 38 years, since 1977.
“I am so ready. I am so content,” Gordon said about his decision to retire. He reaffirmed his decision not to return to NASCAR racing in 2016.
“It’s been absolutely amazing, and I couldn’t have ever imagined how my life would turn out,” Gordon stated emphatically.
A woman shouted to Gordon from the audience in appreciation. He asked, “Is that you Annie?” He noted that she was a regular at the Texas Motor Speedway, which elicited supportive applause and laughs from the audience.
“NASCAR in particular has changed my life in ways that I could never describe.”
He described the last 25 years as being a “blur,” and that his first travels from Indiana to North Carolina to see what NASCAR was “all about” seemed like “not that long ago.”
Jeff Gordon described the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series as being one of the “most prestigious” among racing series. He then started to choke up, to hoots from the audience. Gordon stated that he was “forever thankful” for his career.
Gordon thanked his friends, family, and NASCAR. He especially thanked NASCAR for creating and “maintaining” the Sprint Cup Series as an excellent one. He also thanked Sprint, a major NASCAR sponsor, the Fox Network, the media, and Rick and Linda Hendrick; saying their name caused Gordon to choke up again. He took a moment to regain his composure as members of the audience applauded and hooted with approval and support.
“Thank you so much for choosing me as your driver,” Gordon said to the Hendricks.
Gordon then talked about the past year, in which he finished third in NASCAR standings. He praised Alan Gustafson and the effort put forward by the chief and his team. Gordon also noted that he drove a Chevy in each one of the “797 straight starts” he made. The NASCAR hero named a long list of others who have helped him achieve his goals. He then made special note of his family, his fans, and his fellow competitors.
“I appreciate the way all of you compete at such a high level,” Gordon said to his fellow NASCAR drivers.
Jeff Gordon said that he’s going to miss the excitement of winning races and feeling the satisfaction of working hard and achieving goals. He also said that he would miss the cheering of fans. Gordon said that he was looking forward to not having to practice in 90 degree heat, and shaking hands with fans who haven’t washed their hands. He also stated that he wouldn’t miss debris cautions during races.
Jeff Gordon will be working as a NASCAR commentator with Fox Sports in 2016.
[Feature Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]