Gordon’s personal touch to charity

It’s no secret that Jeff Gordon is committed to much more than his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.

The four-time champion has used his platform to raise awareness for a variety of causes over the years. He’s gained notice as much for his humanitarian efforts as his race wins in recent seasons. He’s worked with both children, through his Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation, and the elderly, though his partnership with sponsor AARP’s Drive to End Hunger program.

Gordon’s foundation’s stated mission is “to support children battling cancer by funding programs that improve patients’ quality of life, treatment programs that increase survivorship and pediatric medical research dedicated to finding a cure.”

He and his foundation provide support to the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital in Concord, N.C., as well as being involved in a series of other charitable efforts.

The 41-year-old driver outlines how he initially became aware of and involved in the efforts that he soon took to heart — and credits the men who came before him in the series.

It all started with a visit to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the early ’90s.

“Going there for the first time to visit kids at a children’s hospital and that was kind of an ‘ah’ moment for me to experience that,” he said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “Up to that point, I had never really been around seriously ill children and people that were going, families as well as children, that were going through those types of illnesses and all that went with that. So that was the first time.

"The second would have been Ray Evernham when his son Ray J was diagnosed, that was the first time it ever hit close to home. And then through those experiences, watching other drivers – Richard Petty, Bill Elliott, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, guys that were in this garage area when I first came in, looking up to them, wanting to be like them and seeing the work they were doing, meeting kids at Make-A-Wish, Kyle and Richard starting the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

“Those were things that inspired me because I didn’t just want to be a champion, I wanted to be a true champion and so when I saw the work they were doing it made me, because I wanted to be like them on the track, but I wanted to be like them off the track, too, and it told me, I have a greater responsibility than just trying to go out there and win races.”

So it should really come as no surprise that Gordon was meeting fans Friday at the track as they all boxed up meals through the AARP program.

It seems like a simple step — and is one that is not new for Gordon. However, he continues to be amazed when he works with fans in this type of scenario. He says working alongside fans brings a different kind of energy and interaction.

“I get a totally different reaction from the fans,” he said. “Of course we do autograph sessions and events all the time, but when the fans are there actually helping you package boxes or put meals together then they are reacting differently to you because, and I think it’s an experience that they’re going to take back in a different way too, because it’s not just stand in line and get an autograph. They’re actually, they know that they’re doing something good.

“A lot of people yesterday were saying, thanking me for doing this because they have somebody in their family or close to them that needs those meals. I thought that was really interesting to not only have fun with the fans doing this but also to hear the stories of those that understand how much this has really helped people.”

Gordon says that he couldn’t believe it when he first learned the team had the opportunity to partner with the program.

Now in their third year together, it seems that the program has even exceeded expectations. As to Gordon, it’s just the latest step in his efforts to make a difference.

“I can’t believe we’re going into our third year together with the first-ever cause-driven sponsor, primary sponsor,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for me personally as well as all of us at Hendrick.”