Robby Gordon is making his way to become a famous Indycar driver in Formula 1. He kicked off his racing career by taking part in the Daytona 24 Hours sportscar race and has been consistently driving cars in an Indycar series. Apart from that, he has also successfully raced Formula 3000 cars as well as Winston Cup vehicles.
At the 1991 Daytona 500, I saw Robby Gordon for the first time. He had a lot of attention that day and when I asked my friend Gordon Kirby if he was any good, suddenly we heard a loud ‘thump’ from the racetrack. The announcement said it was Robby’s car, a Ford with number 90 called Publix, that crashed into the wall at Turn 4 of the track.
It has been two years since Gordon had a bad experience with NASCAR and crashed an F3000 test. That memory is slowly slipping away too.
Gordon is 24 and doing really well in Indycars since he started last year. He was fantastic at Surfers’ Paradise and even got to stand on the same podium as two former world champions! But then, he messed up and crashed at Phoenix and had a run-in with Eddie Cheever at Long Beach.
Robby is a very talented racer and his ambition is to win. But, sometimes he gets too excited which makes it harder for him to control his car. Gordon used to race Off-Road and Motocross in California, the same kind of racing Rick Mears has done.
When I was 8, I started racing motocross bikes. I won two championships doing this and then at 15 I became a Pro-Am title holder. Unfortunately, there were some injuries along the way. I broke my wrist and my collarbone. You had to be able to do big jumps and if you couldn’t that meant there was no point in even trying. A few of my friends also got seriously hurt while race so eventually, I felt it was time for me to leave it behind and move on.
Gordon made a big impression when he first began racing in the IMSA (International Motorsports Association) series in 1990. His dad used to race off-road cars, so Gordon started racing at age 16 and won his very first championship during that season.
From 1985-89, Gordon was a teenager and won many awards in races like off-road marathons and Mickey Thompson stadium sprints. This caught the attention of Ford and they offered him support. He completed the Baja 1000 alone in 17 hours which earned him even more recognition. But eventually he had to choose between Ford and Toyota, who both wanted to back him, so he chose Ford. To help him succeed with his future career, Mike Kranefuss from Ford took Gordon under his wing kind of like his own guardian angel ever since.
Someone called Kranefuss asked Robby to race in a Roush Mustang at Sebring. Because he was only 20, Robby couldn’t rent a car and had to take an expensive taxi from the Orlando airport. When he stepped up to the racing track, Robby showed his skills and got hired for the works Ford IMSA GTS team for 1990.
At 21 years old, he did something impressive – winning the class in his first race at Daytona. Before that, he competed in a series called ‘silhouette’, which helped him learn how to drive on both road and tracks. He also won three more races, finishing as runner-up for the title despite some stumbles here and there. People started to keep an eye on him because of how well he adapted from dirt racing to circuits. All these success he achieved was possible due to Kranefuss who was behind him every step of the way.
Robby Gordon, an American racer said this about Nige, “He’s a great person. He was really friendly to me even though he had no idea who I was. We actually competed against each other in the Surfers’ Pole.”
That summer Mike and Eddie Jordan allowed Nige to test out a GA F1Flow F3000 car at Snetterton racetrack. It was his first time driving a single-seater car and he quickly got used it. At that moment, Robby had one dream; to make it into Formula 1 racing – not Indycars.
Robby decided to try stock car racing and he did great. At the end of 1990, he drove in an ARCA race that went with a Winston Cup event in Atlance and it was so surprising when he took the pole! During the race, Robby led until something happened and he crashed.
In 1991, Robby was assigned by Kranefuss to race in the Winston Cup with Junie Donlavey’s Ford team, which had been around for a while but not very successful. He did well during practice at Daytona and was the fourth fastest driver over winter. But then he crashed his car while practicing for the 500 race and all the other Winston Cup racers just nodded knowingly as if this was an expected outcome.
“You must keep on going fast”, he said to me one afternoon. “If you go slow, people won’t recognize you. If I can become apart of that advanced group of drivers, I want to”.
In the 500 race he crashed while racing with Richard Petty and after 1 more bad experience, the 18-race NASCAR plan was cancelled. Robby kept working at IMSA GTS for the rest of 1991, but sometimes it went quite well or ended in a crash.
Gordon was a very thrilling person to watch! He had lots of speed, but he often crashed due to his careless attitude.
In July, Kranefuss took Robby to the British Grand Prix so that he could meet important people. Later in summer, Robby got a chance to try out a Lola car from Paul Stewart Racing for F3000. Unfortunately, after only a few dark drivers, he crashed it into a wall at the Dunlop corner, causing serious damage and hurting his reputation.
I had never driven on a rumble strip before, so when I took the first corner I accidentally let my right tires touch it. This caused my car to go the wrong direction and I’m still pretty upset about it.
The plans for Gordon to do F3000 were forgotten, and another opportunity came up. Ford wanted to go back into Indycars racing, so Robby’s previous lack of interest in this series didn’t matter anymore. Kranefuss suggested that Robby should drive Chip Ganassi’s second Lola which had a Ford engine for the year 1992.
In December 1991, Gordon tested on the Phoenix oval. He had never been in an Indycar before and everyone was hoping that he wouldn’t crash and burn. But Robby didn’t disappoint – he did great and earned himself a contract to race in several road races.
Gordon shocked a lot of people with his great performance in seven different races. He had some accident and touched the wall, but he was fast especially faster than his teammate Cheever, plus no one can deny how hardworking he was.
He exclaimed that his first year as an Indycar driver went really well for him. Towards the end of the season, he began to qualify in the top 10 and run in the top 5 during a race. He even had a chance to land on the podium at Vancouver’s event.
Gordon had a hard time finding a car for 1993, but Ford helped him out by giving him an engine. Gordon then teamed up with AJ Foyt who was known for not being easy on inexperienced drivers. But Robby got lucky and found Kenny Anderson, an ex-Formula 1 engineer from Ganassi, to work with him.
I was lucky because Kenneth stayed with me when I worked at Ganassi. It’s the first time Foyt ever hired an engineer. We were very successful at Surfers’ Paradise, too! I think I was the fastest in every practice except qualifying where I ended fourth. But that was all my 1992 car could do – probably a better driver could have done better, but that’s what I managed to do.
Robby was racing against Fittipaldi and Mansell, and he ended up third. AJ wasn’t there to see Robby’s race because he chose not to go the Aussie trip. However, at Phoenix, Gordon had a really bad crash due to his mistake as a beginner.
I was going really fast at the Phoenix race, and I knew if I stayed longer, I could’ve won. At that moment, I led two laps ahead of Mario and he ended up winning anyway. It was just a rookie mistake on my part; two cars were in front of me so I tried to move underneath them but I ended up hitting the wall which caused my car to go out of control. That accident was the first and only one I’ve had since driving an Indycar and it wasn’t even painful for me at all, so I’m still confident about racing.
Two weeks later, Robby Gordon had a difficult race at Long Beach. He was stuck behind another car for 20 laps and when he finally passed it, Eddie Cheever bumped into him and gave him a flat tire. It seemed like Robby wanted to get back at his former teammate because the two don’t have the best relationship. Did Robby lose his temper?
I was really mad at him but when I came back to the pits, there had been a spill of fuel on the back of my car that burned off the rear brake lines. I’m telling you this for real with no lies!
My rear brakes suddenly stopped working, and this happened right after I got out of the pits with a flat tyre. I was trying to slow down and get out of everyone’s way but Eddie Cheever wouldn’t let me pass him. We only bumped into each other lightly – not hard enough for it to be bad. Even though I like Long Beach, I couldn’t wait to leave that place.
Robby Gordon said he’s very interested in Formula One racing and wants to do it one day when the perfect team and engineers are present. He also mentioned that you can be successful in Indycars too! Right now, Robby has been doing really well alongside Mansell who was even impressed with his performance during Surfers’.”
Nige surprised a lot of Americans by being very friendly. He’s a great and tough driver whose driving style is the same as Cheever or other professional racing athletes. His strategy in the race is to always block if he can’t beat you, which makes the series much more competitive and harder for others to pass.
Mansell’s work in Indycars has made Gordon a well-known name around the world and he’s still hoping to one day make it to Formula 1.
He said, “I really want to do Formula 1 at some point if I am with the right team and engineers. With Indycars, you can stay here and be content or move through there and be just as content.”
Gordon found a competition with Cheever but eventually formed a friendship with Mansell.
Have you ever seen this picture by F1Flow Images? Well, the person in this photo was asked if Ford can help him make it to F1. He said that he believes he can do it on his own but doing well in races is important for allowing him to get a good ride like Michael Andretti did.
“I want Michael to do well and be successful. I hope everything comes together for him because the more he succeeds, it will make it easier for someone else like me who is hoping to achieve the same goals. I don’t know if I’m that ‘next person’, but maybe I can be. It seems like he’s getting into a lot of stuff, which I understand very well because I’ve been through something similar before.”
Gordon is visiting Indianapolis for the first time ever, and it’s his very first Indycar race at a superspeedway. He did really well during this last week’s rookie tests because he was one of the fastest. What makes his visit to Indiaapolis even more special is that he’s representing Foyt, and there’s even a chance that AJ himself might unretire.
I’m so excited! I’m going to the Indy 500 with AJ and it’s gonna be awesome. He might be racing, but I’ll still have my crew and our ’93 car with us. It looks like Nigel and I will both dive right in together! I don’t really know why AJ brought five cars instead of two, but all we know are the two 93s and an updated 92.
Jeff Gordon’s Near-Success at Indy 500 and Beyond
Unfortunately, Formula 1 never happened for Gordon. He showed a lot of potential in early single-seater races but was not able to become a consistent Indycar champion. During his debut race at the Indy 500, Gordon drove so well that he was leading the race but got forced to retire due to gearbox problems with 35 laps left. His best performance in 1993 came when he took second place at Mid-Ohio behind Fittipaldi and then moved on to Walker Racing for 1994. Despite his impressive showings in CART, he did not quite reach the level of success that everyone was expecting from him.
Gordon earned two pole positions for Canadian street races in Toronto and Vancouver. He eventually won his first race at Phoenix in 1995, which he started from pole position. After this, his championship challenge faded away. But, even so, there was still some hope for the future. Sadly though, Gordon only ever finished fifth place in the standings – this would be the highest achievement of his open-wheel racing career.
The 1996 racing season was a huge letdown for him as he could only finish third in the opening race at Miami. He had bad relations with Ford due to speaking out on how their car engines weren’t working well. Unfortunately, he never won any other races and his best result was being 8th when he ran his own team in 1999 but his cars had weak Toyota engines and he switched between Swift and Eagle cars.
In 1999, he was unfortunately unable to claim the Indy 500 victory because of a lack of fuel. With just two laps left when this happened, it allowed Kenny Brack to snatch up the win instead. During 2001’s race, after he qualified amongst the front runners, he led for 22 laps but due to a pitstop with only a small amount of fuel he had to settle in fourth place during the end of the race.
Gordon kept appearing at the Indy 500 until 2004 after he became a full-time NASCAR racer in 2000. He took three wins on the Cup Series, two of them being on road courses, when he was with Richard Childress Racing. Sadly, his success didn’t last long when he created his own team in 2005. Although Gordon always did well on the road courses, he didn’t manage to get another win after changing cars from Chevrolet to Ford, Dodge and Toyota in one year.
Jeff Gordon stopped racing in NASCAR Cup eight years ago and since then, he has gone on to become the champion of the Stadium Super Truck series two times. In eleven attempts at the Dakar Rally, his best result was coming in third place in 2009. Back in 1999 while trying his luck at the Indy 500 race, he ended up being leading most of the way only to have to pit for fuel as it neared its end.