When Jeff Gordon announced that 2015 would be his final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he made it clear he was not looking for gifts and fanfare from each track on the schedule.
However, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Gordon have some history, so track officials made Gordon’s final visit here something special.
Prior to Gordon’s media availability Friday afternoon, AMS president and general manager Ed Clark presented the four-time Sprint Cup champion with a unique gift — for his son.
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On behalf of the track, Clark gave Gordon a Bandolero race car with Gordon’s familiar No. 24 on the side, but his 4-year-old son Leo’s name on the door. On the hood of the car, it read, "Thanks Jeff, from Atlanta Motor Speedway."
"That is amazing. I appreciate you not giving me anything," said Gordon. "Leo is going to want to sleep in this thing at night. I have a feeling this might end up in his bedroom for a year or two before he can drive it. That is awesome. Thank you so much."
While Gordon’s 7-year-old daughter, Ella, already has driven quarter midgets, he is not sure he is ready to see his kids racing just yet.
"Ella was ready to go. Leo is not quite ready, but I can see him being ready soon, but Mom and Dad were not ready for that," Gordon said of his children’s future in racing. "That was terrifying. This thing goes a lot faster than a quarter midget. As cool as this thing is, it is going to be more on me getting my heart ready for it."
The painted tribute on the Atlanta Motor Speedway frontstretch grass was also not lost on the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
Jeff Gordon speaks on Friday in the Atlanta Motor Speedway deadline room.
"I was watching practice earlier with XFINITY and I saw the ‘Thanks 24’ out there in the grass. It really put a big smile on my face," Gordon told Clark. "I appreciate all the effort you and your staff have done. Not just this weekend, but over all the years. You are right: This is a very special place to me."
Gordon earned his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory at AMS in 1992, besting veterans Harry Gant, Morgan Shepherd, Davey Allison, Mark Martin and Dale Jarrett.
In the final weekend of the season, Gordon made his Sprint Cup debut in the Hooters 500 at AMS — Richard Petty’s final NASCAR start and one of NASCAR’s most memorable races of all time.
"I will certainly never forget that first race here," Gordon said Friday afternoon. "I will never forget that driver’s meeting. Do you remember that driver’s meeting? That was an amazing driver’s meeting. For it to be my first one in Cup and Richard’s last one and the faces that were in there beyond just the drivers was pretty impressive. I know I have told this story many times; I still have that money clip that Richard handed out that day with my starting position. I wasn’t that proud at the moment because we started 21st, but I will remember that forever."
Despite not wanting a retirement party thrown each weekend, Gordon — who refuses to even use the word "retirement" — has enjoyed all of the memories coming in from fans in person and on social media.
"Sometimes I remember those moments and sometimes I don’t," he said. "But definitely so far the highlight has been making the announcement and hearing the overwhelming praise from not just my peers but the fans and the media. That’s not really something you can anticipate or prepare for. There are a couple of times that it’s gotten me pretty choked up to think of all the things I’ve accomplished and the way people have viewed it over the years."
Jeff Gordon speaks with reporters while standing near son Leo’s newest gift, courtesy of Atlanta Motor Speedway.