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Jeff Gordon still a wonder

Jeff Gordon still a wonder

Jeff Gordon, who will turn 38 in August, remains remarkably youthful. It is, however, misleading, as apparent youth often is. “I’ve always said, as a race-car driver, that you never stop learning … ever,” Gordon says. Gordon is one of those athletes about whom the phrase “forever young” seems appropriate. His voice remains that of a teenager, still etched in wonder even as the words coming from his mouth evoke experience and maturity. Earlier this season, Gordon won the 82 nd race of his career. Only five drivers — Richard Petty (200), David Pearson (105), Bobby Allison (84), Darrell Waltrip (84) and CaleYarborough (83) — have won more. Only two, Petty and Dale Earnhardt, have won more than four championships. Gordon won officially for the first time in the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994, almost 15 years ago. “I was thrilled to get my first win here,” he said of the track. “The first time I came down to Charlotte to drive a stock car was out in Rockingham at Buck Baker Driving School, and I remember driving by the speedway, wanting to see the speedway, and I was just blown away by this place. Then, getting a chance to drive a car here for the first time, I just fell in love with it from day one. “It’s pretty ironic to me and blew me away that I got my first Cup win at this race track, especially in such a big event like the 600.” In retrospect, that victory was a prophecy. It foretold greatness. Truth is, it wasn’t that much of a surprise at the time. Gordon had already been declared a boy wonder, which is why, much to the chagrin of Ray Evernham (his crew chief at the time), fans and journalists began referring to him as Wonder Boy. Gordon, who was born in Vallejo, Calif. but served his racer’s apprenticeship in Pittsboro, Ind., is now an aging superhero. It wouldn’t be surprising given his backaches — after all, drivers hit a lot of walls — if there weren’t a certain expectation that the once Wonder Boy is still “faster than a speeding locomotive and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.” So Gordon grunts a little when he wakes up in the morning. He’s a family guy with a beautiful wife and a lovely daughter. The boy from the sprint cars who once seemed suspended in adolescence is now a man, fully formed, coping with all the obligations and commitments conferred by time. (c) 2009 King Features Syndicate

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