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Crash and Win: NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon

Aired May 22, 2001 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-oh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nowhere for him to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, boy. Right into the side of Jeff Gordon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, NASCAR great Jeff Gordon could have died in this dramatic weekend crash, but he says God helped him survive and drive on to victory. An exclusive hour with champion Jeff Gordon, keeping faith in the face of deadly danger.

We'll take your calls and tell you all about it, next on LARRY KING LIVE!

KING: We've got an hour with a true champion: the incredibly talented Jeff Gordon, who has burst upon the racing scene. He has won three NASCAR Winston Cup series championships this past weekend. He won the Winston, which is NASCAR's all-star race for the third time.

Almost didn't -- what the heck happened to you? What happened -- what happened Saturday? Take us through it.

JEFF GORDON, NASCAR CHAMPION: Well, it's a crazy event, actually. It's called the Winston, or the all-star event of NASCAR Winston Cup racing. So, you know, it kind of gets crazy on an average night, not to mention when the weather is all around us, lightning, thunder, and it had been sprinkling before the race started. It looked like the track was dry.

They dropped they green flag, and it started to rain pretty hard just as we got into turn one. And, as you saw in the tape there, it was a big wreck. Only three or four of us hit the wall hard, but it took us out of it, really. I basically was getting ready to put my clothes on, said: Hey, call it a night, come back next week and try for the 600.

But because it's such a crazy event, and the caution flags don't count like it does in a normal points race, we were actually able to get our backup car out and start the race from scratch when the rain stopped, and go racing again.

KING: So you won driving the backup car?

GORDON: Yeah, we take two cars to every event. Basically, the backup car is just for emergencies. It's if you happen to crash that car in practice or qualifying runs or prior to the race. But because it's the Winston, this all-star event, you're actually able to get it out. And it's a good race car. Just because we call it a backup, it's just not the one we chose first for that he event. But it's still a great race car. My team just did an awesome job preparing it, getting it back out there on the race track. And it was obviously good enough to win.

KING: Now, you were struck by Michael Waltrip's car. And they call that a kind of T-bone. Can you tell us where the -- is that purely an accident, by the way? Nothing deliberate in that, is there?

GORDON: Oh, no, no. He was doing everything he could to really just hold on to his car. He was slipping and sliding in the wet conditions also. I had gotten sideways, then the car turned into the wall, hit with the right front corner pretty hard. I got into Jeff Burton a little bit there, trying to slow the car down. And I just was not under control at that time, and then Michael came by and had nowhere to go.

Luckily, he hit me in the left rear tire instead of actually in the door. If he had hit me right in the door, it may have been a little bit harder impact. But where he hit me, and with the seat that I have in the car, and the head restraint that I have, I barely even felt that hit. The first hit I felt. That second one was really not much at all.

KING: Really, that last part of it, which looked wild. you did not feel?

GORDON: Oh, well, I felt it, but it...

KING: They call it T-bone because it looks like a T-bone steak, like you're hitting a perpendicular head-on.

GORDON: I guess that's where they got that from, yeah.

KING: I know you're a firm believer in -- are you a born-again, by the way, Jeff, or have you always...

GORDON: I am. I am.

KING: Born again.

GORDON: Yes, born-again Christian. And, just, you know, I put a lot of faith in God. I'm very blessed to have the life that I've had, and to go through all of the different things that I've gone through -- ups and downs in this sport. I have had some, you know, incredible success, but I've been through some nasty wrecks and have come out with no injuries. So I certainly thank God for that each and every day. And I think the only way for me, my wife, my family, really our entire race team to get through what goes on out there, is to put our faith in God, know it's in his hands.

KING: At that moment of impact, did you ever think you bought it?

(LAUGHTER)

GORDON: I knew I was going to hit the wall hard the first time with the right front corner, and that's a bad angle. That's not the angle that you want to hit with. I did have the Hans device on. It did its job, so I was thankful for that. Then, as I started to slide down the racetrack, you know, I said: Oh, boy, I hope there aren't any cars coming.

But you hold on tight. You know, in that situation, when you're sliding across the track in front of traffic, you just hold on tight, hoping nobody's going to hit you. But if they do, you hope that all the equipment you've got in there does its job, and it did for me.

KING: Tell me what this device did for you.

GORDON: Well, when I hit the wall with the right front corner, basically, it lunged my head forward. Now, I didn't hit as hard as, say, if a right front tire blew, or if I got turned into the wall at top speed. Luckily, we had gone in the corner. The car started to slide, so it lost a little bit of speed, thankfully. But as it turned in the wall, it still hit hard. My neck stretched, and I felt it stretch. But the Hans device, the head and neck system, it just -- it stopped it from going too far. Stopped, you know, basically, my head from traveling too far and causing any head injuries.

KING: There was a similarity to the Dale Earnhardt crash, and he did not wear that device. Can we say that had he worn it, he might be with us?

GORDON: I don't know if that -- that would have changed anything at all. You know, Dale was really big on safety, and he did everything he could to make sure he was as safe as possible. That was a bad angle that he hit at. It's hard to say if there is anything that would have prevented his death. We would have liked to have said that there was, but we really have no idea.

And that's one of the things that some of us are pushing for, is what they call a crash recorder in these cars, where we actually know the impact, the angles, everything that goes on in these crashes, so that we know exactly what we're dealing with. And it's right around the corner. It's coming soon.

KING: Like an airplane has.

GORDON: Exactly.

KING: We will take a break and we'll come back and discuss the whole career of Jeff Gordon, take you through it -- the feelings of his wife, and the incredible aspect, and what it was like when he was little kid growing up and how he chose this profession.

Jeff Gordon's our guest. We will include your phone calls. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Tom Brokaw tomorrow night. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A backup, a kiss from his wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whoo!

GORDON: Yeah!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A great tune-up for the 600 next weekend.

GORDON: Yeah, it is. We're excited about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A billion dollars. Well, the fireworks were in the sky...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There is Jeff Gordon, the victory lap, winning again. Kind of commonplace in the Jeff Gordon litany of things. Incredible story.

How old are you, Jeff?

GORDON: I'm getting old, Larry. I'm going to be 30 in August.

KING: And you started wining on the NASCAR route at what age?

GORDON: I was 21, I believe. '93 is my rookie year. I won a qualifying race at Daytona, so I was 20. But I was 21 -- or just before my 21st birthday, I guess.

KING: How many races have you won?

GORDON: Let's see, what am I at? Fifty-three, I think -- points events. That doesn't include the Winston and Busch Classics, some of the other specialty events that we have.

KING: There is a lot of jealousy, and somehow, a lot of people mad -- do you know why?

GORDON: I know it is tough to see a young guy come in with very little experience in the stock car, and have a lot of success early on, and you know, especially, those first couple years. It probably didn't appear that I worked very hard to get to where I was, and it was handed to my on a platter.

But you know, we put a great team together. And I've been racing race cars for a long time. And things just really clicked for us early on in my career in Winston Cup, so I sort of understand it, I guess.

KING: Did you ever feel animosity from other drivers that you were this young, pip-squeak suddenly, taking hold of things -- I'm sure Tiger Woods faced that in golf.

GORDON: I never saw it face-to-face on a personal level. Yes, I would hear little things maybe through the media, you know, and maybe it was just them trying to stir things up, you never know. But you hear bits and pieces of maybe, some of the other competitors saying things, that you know, I guess I did understand -- I mean, I look at myself now and I feel like I have earned a lot of respect over the last few years.

You know, going through winning championships, not winning championships, struggling, having to build this team back, to get back up on top. And, you know, that is that is what earns respect of the competitors.

KING: Let's go back a little -- when did you start thinking about -- how old were you when you started, like, were you a little kid riding around in little cars? Kiddy cars?

GORDON: Well, I tell you, it all started -- I was four years-old when I first started racing. I was racing actually BMX bicycles. My parents got me into that. And when I turned about 4 1/2, I started driving a Quarter Midget.

KING: There you are. We have little films of you -- how old are you there?

GORDON: I'm about 6 or 7 there. And my parents, my stepfather and my mother, they are the ones that got me involved. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I just -- found something that I enjoyed, and they really pushed and pursued me into that career.

KING: Do you remember -- it's hard to look back -- why you liked it?

GORDON: I liked everything that went fast at that age. You know, when you excel at something and you find that you have a talent for something, I think you automatically start to like it, and you find something in it that just continues to drive you. And that is what racing did for me.

KING: How about fear?

GORDON: Like, I was on the show before with you, and, there is no doubt there is fear inside you. You know, every lap, there is an edge that you are pushing that car to and it is fear that keeps you from going over that edge, and keeping the car in control.

KING: You didn't have it at 7 or 8?

GORDON: Oh, yeah, I had it. You know, the first time I ever got in that car, even though I was only doing maybe 25, 30 miles an hour, I was scared.

Probably one of the moments that I remember that I had the most fear was the first time I drove a sprint car, which I was not even 14 years old, and it was about a 650 -- 700 horsepower race car, and I had no idea what I was doing. I never even driven a street car, let alone this race car with all this horsepower.

And I remember the first time I had to start that car on a dirt, gravel road, it scared the heck. I didn't know how I was going to go out there and actually race that car, but somehow, we did. My stepfather -- he really believed in me, and, you know, gave me the confidence to go out there and do it.

KING: It's an age-old argument in athletics: how much is learned? How much is natural? Are you a natural race car driver?

I mean, did you take to it -- were you like this cliche, born to drive?

GORDON: I guess in a way, I did take to it right away. Sort of like I took to video games, too, when I was kid, you know. There are just certain things that I pick up very fast.

But one thing is, I think I am a fast learner. So once I do find something that I like, and that I'm pretty good at, I find ways to get better and better at it, and, you know, the more experience that you get over the years, I think the better that I have gotten with that experience.

So, you know, I think that what's got me to this level is starting at a young age and yes, having some natural ability. But then, all those years of experience of racing on all these different tracks all over the country, in Australia, New Zealand -- I have been all over the world racing. And I think all that experience has really gotten me to this level and helped me to excel.

KING: We'll ask Jeff Gordon about the effects of this on marriage, what that's like. We'll be taking your calls with one of the greatest ever: Jeff Gordon. He won again this weekend on the back-up car.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: There is the scene in the profession Jeff Gordon chooses to earn a living. What are you doing there?

GORDON: I'm celebrating, Larry.

KING: By twirling and what do they call -- donuts, is that what you call that?

GORDON: Just burning rubber, yeah. You know, just doing a donut. You know, this -- that race there is all for the fans, it really is geared around short-segment sprint races for a whole lot of money, and they know that the drivers are just hanging it out there as much as they can, so it's for the fans, so you can throw some entertainment in there.

KING: A whole lot of money, you've won $515,000.

GORDON: That is quite a bit of money for one night's work.

KING: I would say. Now, you married Brook, the lovely Brook, who was Miss Winston, right?

GORDON: That's right.

KING: Wasn't there a law against drivers dating Miss Winstons?

GORDON: No law, no written law. But you know, I think that they don't really encourage it -- but it's funny, there is probably about two or three past Miss Winstons that have gone to marry within our sport. So you know, us guys that are out there competing every weekend, we don't get a chance to get around and meet too many nice girls. So when one comes along, even if she's working in the sport, you are going to take advantage of it, and we just clicked right away.

KING: How long have you been married now?

GORDON: Oh, boy. Just celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, so we're going to be on seven years at the end of this year.

KING: How many children?

GORDON: None yet, you know, somewhere down the road. It is such a hectic schedule traveling so much, that we really want to dedicate our time and efforts to that child when we are ready.

KING: Does Brook go everywhere with you?

GORDON: She does. You know, we are very fortunate that in our sport, the wives, the family are encouraged to travel to the racetrack. There is areas for them. We have airplanes that we are able to travel conveniently in our own airplanes to each and every event.

KING: Now, doesn't she -- I mean, honestly worry about what you do?

GORDON: I'm sure she does. Some days I think that she has got a much tougher job than I do. You know, when I'm out there, I feel like I'm in control of what's going on. Out there, of race car, and that somewhat of it is in my hands, so I guess I have more of a comfort level than she probably does.

And I know she gets excited about, you know, watching what goes on out there, because she, you know, loves the competition, loves to see us win, but at the same time, she knows there is a danger level out there, and I think that is where her faith in God really comes in and comforts her.

KING: So, I was going to ask you, she has the same faith as you?

GORDON: Absolutely, she is very much a part of getting me to share my faith with others, and really get me to the level of where I'm at in my faith with God. She grew up in a Christian family, went to a Christian schools, so a lot of those questions that you have when you are sort of getting to know the Lord, she was right there able to help me with a lot of them. KING: Is there ever a tendency to doubt that faith when you see a Dale Earnhardt die or in a near-crash or, I mean, or do you solely say that is the business you chose, it's not God's business?

GORDON: Well, no, I think God is in control and has a purpose and a reason for everything that happens out there. Even though we hear -- question a lot of things that happen out there, and don't always understand it, I still believe that some day we are going to have that answer, but I look at it as, you know, a compliment that, you know, God felt like, hey, you know you done your job and your duty, and I would like to have you here with me. So that's the way I try to look at it.

KING: So you think Dale looked at it that way, too?

GORDON: You know, he didn't share his faith with me, but I know that he had a faith in God, just from, you know, talking to friends and family of his and our pastor. So, he was a very private person. And I think that he -- that was one of the things he chose to do privately.

KING: So, therefore, what you are saying is if that occurs, you are prepared for it?

GORDON: Absolutely. And, you know, I do it to comfort myself, but I want that to comfort others around me, too, even though, it still might be hard to accept, you know, I want everybody to know that, first of all, I did choose this profession, I know it's dangerous. But I love what I do. I get out there with a passion to win that race. And that's what drives me, and, you know, if something happens to me out in that race car, don't blame it on anybody or any device or anything. But just be thankful that I'm in God's hands.

KING: When we come back, we'll go to calls shortly for Jeff Gordon. I'm going to ask how much of the race is the hands, the dexterity, the brain, how much is the car? Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In horse racing, it's the jockey or the horse. In Jeff Gordon's profession, is it the car or the driver? I'd ask it this way, great driver, one of the best, average car. Great car, average driver. Who would you go with?

GORDON: Boy, that's a tough question. In our business, the race car means a lot. You know, there -- that's a piece of equipment, that a piece of machinery that, you know, has to be right. But I think that what sets championship teams and drivers apart from the rest is that total combination, you know. You've got to have the driver that can get it done and can communicate to make a car even better than it is. So, you know, there -- it's hard to say, that is a tough question that a lot of people would answer. I'll tell you this: some race tracks, car means more than driver. Other race tracks, driver means more than car.

KING: How much of a race is strategy? GORDON: There's a lot of strategy that goes into it. It just depends on how the race unfolds. Some of our races there are very few cautions, so fuel mileage really becomes a strategy or if you can maybe save time in the pits by only taking two tires instead of four tires, so track position, these days, with this competitive as it is seems to become a bigger issue than it has in the past.

KING: Do you ever desire Indianapolis-type racing?

GORDON: At one time, I did, and I still love it. I mean, I have enjoyed watching qualifying and bump day, and look forward to watching part of the race before I have to go out there and race. But, you know, it is just something that right now is not right for me. It's just something I don't choose to do. I really am trying to focus on winning a Winston Cup Championship, and I want all my attention to be within my team and know that if I'm not in a race car, then I'm rejuvenating my own -- myself to be fully prepared for the next race.

KING: Is it a completely different skill?

GORDON: I think it is definitely a different feel in the race car because you're talking about a lot of down force, you know, a lot more tire to the racetrack. So, it is a totally different feel than a stock car and that might be one of the other reasons, you know. I have never driven that type of car. I have driven open wheel-type cars, but it's a long time ago. So, you know, I've got a feel for a stock car. I like the way they feel, I like the type of racetracks we run on, the competitors. And I just enjoy it so much that is what, you know, I choose to do.

KING: Are you tough with selecting cars?

GORDON: Selecting which cars...

KING: Yes.

GORDON: ... I'm going to take to the racetrack? Or...

KING: Yes, are you demanding? Are you rough on manufacturers, rough on what you want from your team?

GORDON: Well, I guess what we're tough on is maybe NASCAR, in the rules. You know, we want to make sure that we have as equal of equipment, aerodynamically, engine horsepower as anybody else out there. And we race against the other manufacturers. But you know, I guess because -- we've won a lot of races because we've won a lot of championships, that automatically puts the pressure on the team to know that they've got, you know, to put a very good race cars out there. But that is the key, Larry, is the team. I mean, I have got such a good team that's why we're competitive each and every weekend because of these guys back at the shop.

KING: Do they make good money, too?

GORDON: You know, for how many hours they work, I'd say no. But if you look at their paychecks they make good money, but they work long, hard hours, and I just don't know how long these guys can continue to do that, so they get paid pretty good.

KING: We'll be back with your questions for Jeff Gordon. He's our guest for the full hour. Tom Brokaw tomorrow night and detective Lou Smith on Thursday regarding the Ramsey case. He's investigated it, and he says they didn't do it, the parents. He said an intruder did it. He'll tell us why. Back with your calls for Jeff Gordon right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON: You guys are awesome, awesome!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Good way to describe him -- awesome, the amazing Jeff Gordon. By the way, for more from Jeff Gordon you can check out the Q&A segment on King's Table Talk. It's on our Web site, cnn.com/larryking. He has earned so far $2.7 million this year, and he is slightly behind Dale Jarrett in Winston Cup points. Let's go to calls for the great Jeff Gordon. Imporium, Pennsylvania, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Jeff, when you go to a track that you have been successful at in the past, like California or Charlotte, do you go right to your race setup, or do you always put in a qualifying engine and try to go for the pole?

GORDON: Well, that is great question.

KING: Sure is.

GORDON: Really, these days, qualifying is almost as important as the race. I mentioned track position earlier. It is so hard to get track position, so we go to the race track, even though it is a racetrack that we are very familiar with, that we have run well at, we go to that racetrack trying to win the pole. We want to start as far forward as we can. We put an engine in there that makes at least 20 more horsepower than -- 15, 20 more horsepower -- that we think what our race engine would do just because the race engine needs go 500 miles or so.

KING: Forty percent of the audience are women. Recent NASCAR survey says it is second only to pro football in television ratings, 64 percent of the viewers have attended college a year or beyond, or full college or beyond, 41 percent earn more than $50,000 a year. So we might have had misconceptions about the followers of NASCAR. Bristol, Virginia, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Jeff, my family loves watching you win on Sundays, and my question really revolves around Ray Everham and how your disbelievers didn't really think you would amount to much since he left, and I like to just like to know how you feel this year, doing such a fine job.

KING: Yes, tell us about his leaving. GORDON: Well, and hi to you in Bristol, Virginia. A great area up there, a lot of big race fans, I know. You know, it was tough for us to part because not only...

KING: Explain who he is.

GORDON: Ray Everham was my crew chief from my rookie season in Winston Cup all the way up until the end of the 99 season, and we had a down year in 2000, so obviously it looked like you know, well, you know, Ray left and everything is falling apart, and I think, you know, even Ray will tell you that, you know, as a great leader he was involved with bringing that team to the level it was, and he knew what it would take to get it back and it just takes a great effort.

And that is where Robbie Loomis comes in, Brian Wetzel. A lot of key people that did stay with the team that have had a lot of influence on how to bring it back together because this is a totally a team sport. And you know, I think that last year was a great year for us to just, not only earn respect of the other competitors, but find ourselves deep inside of what we had to do to get back on top. And I think that it was one of those years where we learned a lot about ourselves, and there were frustrating times but I think that is what's made us stronger and the team that we are today.

KING: To Wadsworth, Ohio. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, how you doing, Jeff? Hey, I've got a question for you. Is the Tony Stewart feud still going on, or is that water under the bridge? And this is -- my best friend's a Gordon fan, Big John Reid (ph), and I'm a Stewart fan.

KING: OK, where does it stand, Jeff?

GORDON: You know, as far as I'm concerned it is water under the bridge. You know, Tony...

KING: What was it?

GORDON: Well, to me it's always just been fierce competition, and hard racing out there. And we have made contact a few times out there and, you know, I can't really say any of it was intentional. I think that all of it was just two guys going for one spot that, you know, wanted that spot very badly.

Tony is a great race car driver, very talented, and, you know, I know that I'm going to be racing with him week in and week out, and rivalries and feuds and things like that, they don't get you anywhere. They don't do any good, so, you know, my job is to go out there and win races, and that means I have to battle and pass whoever it is out there and it may be Tony or Rusty or Dale Jarrett. You just never know who it is going to be.

KING: So, if there is anger it's not on your part toward him?

GORDON: No, not at all. You know, I have been racing for a long time, and I have gotten into it with guys all along the way, and I have always looked at it as just a part of this sport, a part of racing, and there is going to be times when your emotions get the best of you and your temper -- and you know, I will admit it, it's happened to me too, but I have always been able to just roll it off my back, go to the next one, forget about it.

KING: Do you think, like Tiger Woods, expectations are very high about you?

GORDON: Oh, absolutely.

KING: That you have to live up to a higher standard than others, they expect you to be there or thereabouts?

GORDON: Somewhat, you know. I guess I expected a lot out of myself and a lot out of this team, and they do the same. They expect a lot out of themselves.

But yeah, I think there is an awful lot of pressure from media and from those outside looking in that just -- you know, just like last year, we had a down year and it was people writing us off, saying, you know, they are done, they are no longer going to be competitive and win championships, and I think that it was nice to go out there and show those who maybe didn't believe in us, you know, that it just takes time, and that we are still capable of winning races and championships.

KING: Like in other sports, were you in a slump? Everybody has -- every athlete has slumps.

GORDON: We were in a rebuilding year.

KING: Baseball terms.

GORDON: I don't like to say slump, but I think there were definitely things about the race cars that were changing that I did have to adapt to and learn new techniques and ways to push myself. There were some young guys coming up, they were doing things different. These young guys, you know, you talk about fear, a lot of us say, hey, they have no fear, but there are things to be learned from that in a race car.

KING: We'll be back with more of Jeff Gordon, more of your phone calls on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Stay right there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The guest is Jeff Gordon. Jeff Gordon is one of the incredible athletic stories of the '90s, now into the 2000s.

Rockville Center, Long Island, as we continue with phone calls. Hello.

CALLER: Hello, Jeff, this is Kevin Flynt from Rockville Center, Long Island, how are you doing.

GORDON: Hey, I'm great, how are you. CALLER: Pretty good. I've been to a lot of NASCAR races all over the country, and I just wanted to see how you felt about the boos you get when you crash and the -- the...

KING: They boo you when you crash?

GORDON: Actually, they applaud. You know, I think that if any of them thought or knew that it was a serious accident with potential injuries, I don't think that would happen but there have been times when there have been some fender benders, and they have cheered, actually.

And I don't mind it so much, you know, but my wife kind of takes that hard. So, yeah, you don't always understand things like that. And that can start to get a little personal. But these fans are avid, Larry, I tell you. I mean, we have the most loyal, avid fans that there are in any sport. I will put them up against anybody.

And that is just them being a part of a fan for their driver, whoever it is that they pull for, and I can be a threat to them sometimes.

KING: Is there a lot of gambling on your sport?

GORDON: Like actual gambling? Not that I know of. I know that in Las Vegas, they...

KING: They have odds.

GORDON: They have the odds, there, yeah.

KING: So they bet on you, but you don't know if there is betting in the stands and the like.

GORDON: I bet there are pools going on somewhere either in the arena or outside. But, I don't know of many -- I don't know of any competitors that do.

KING: Do you believe, as some think, that the fans go to see a wreck?

GORDON: You know, I think the crashes are a part of the entertainment, there is no doubt. I don't think anybody goes to see somebody get hurt. I think that what they want to see is a great race. But they want to see crashes and see the people walk away. That is what they want to see. And, you know, that is just a part of our sport, and that is entertainment.

KING: Bloomberg, Pennsylvania with Jeff Gordon. Hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. How you doing, Jeff? I'm one of your biggest fans from Pennsylvania.

GORDON: I appreciate it. Thank you.

CALLER: OK, my question is, is there a pressure in NASCAR to fill the void that Dale Earnhardt left as the most recognizable driver in the sport?

GORDON: I think that, you know, every sport needs superstars. There is no doubt about that. And we've got a lot of them. So there is no doubt in my mind that we are going to have superstars. I don't think anybody is looking to fill the void of Dale Earnhardt, and I don't think anyone could.

This guy was absolutely amazing. He had a fan base that I don't know if anybody will ever touch. You know, and he just -- there was something about Dale that that was just Dale. And I don't know if you are ever going to fill that. But there is a lot of superstars, I mean, you know, we talked about Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr, his own son, is quite a superstar. Dale Jarrett, Bobby La Bonte, Rusty Wallace, there are so many guys that are capable of being superstars that just are scratching the surface right now.

And it is exciting to see that, and they are going to come, you know, out of their shell and you are going to see them rise to the top.

KING: Is there an age in your profession where they start thinking about quitting? Is there a certain age where -- you know, like in baseball, late 30s is about -- football, maybe mid-30s. Jockeys go on a little longer, boxers maybe certainly mid -- no later than mid-30s?

GORDON: There is something about our sport, that another thing that is unique is that -- look at some of these guys in their age, and the experience level that they have is obviously key, because, you know, I'm not sure exactly how Dale Jarrett is, but you know he is one of the older competitors out there he is battling for the championship. He's leading the points there.

Look at Dale Earnhardt. He was, 50 or 51 years old. He almost won the championship last year, so there is a lot to be said about -- experience but you still to be in good shape. If you are in good shape, you are healthy, I really don't believe that it matters just how old you are.

KING: Hyden, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Yes, first of call, I want to say that I looked up to Jeff as a driver and he is my role model.

GORDON: Thank you.

CALLER: My question is, do you think it is possible for me or any other female to join a Winston Cup team as a member of the crew?

GORDON: Hey, I don't see why not. I think that -- you know, females are capable of doing anything a male can, right? We have actually seen a female in a race car this year with Shauna Robinson, so I always have been a believer that it doesn't matter you know, male, female, what color your skin is -- if you've got the ability and the talents to be able to do -- if it is drive a race car or if it's a pit crew in a car, or work as a mechanic in a car, then, you know, we are open to bring you in and see you do it.

KING: Why do you think there are not more blacks in the game?

GORDON: Larry, I will tell you, if I put any kind of explanation to it, it is just, I don't know if they are being brought up into racing as a young kid. You look at race car drivers in our sport today, they all started when they were kids. And I don't know if there is any avenues for young black kids to get into a quarter midget, to get into a go-cart at five years old. And I wish there were.

Because, you know, I think that with time and experience, starting at young age there is no doubt, as talented as we have see blacks in all these other sports, that they couldn't be a great race car driver also.

KING: We'll be right back with more of the life and times of Jeff Gordon. We are going to ask him about life away from the track, like how good a driver is he on Main Street? Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got pushed around by that car. That is the four car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In back of Tony Stewart. It was Tony Stewart going there. And it was Ward Burton's car being sideways that blocked up the track for everybody behind him!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When he gets hit by every car in the field, it seems like Tony Stewart's car took a whale of a ride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORDON: Nice to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thank you.

GORDON: You must have somebody pretty special.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A daughter.

GORDON: That loved you very much, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter.

GORDON: Can you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amazing.

GORDON: I appreciate you being such a fan. You know, mothers are special, so I think the world of my mom, but, obviously, your daughter thinks a lot of you, so we got tickets for Pocono, and hospitality, kind of stuff we got here. Hats, we've got a car, and then, this jacket is for you, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My god.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was Jeff Gordon live on with Regis -- was it Cathie or the new one, Kitty? Whatever the name is.

GORDON: Kelly, yeah.

KING: Kelly live -- I -- hard keeping up with them. Anyway, I love Regis. That was a lot of fun. You surprised that lady.

GORDON: That was a lot of fun for me, you know. It still amazes me to this day that there are people out there that you know look up to you, and are fans to the point where when they meet you they are shaking, and tears are coming down their face.

And I don't know if I'll ever get used to that, but that was a special moment for me to be able to share that moment with her.

KING: Where do you get those Jeff Gordon cars?

GORDON: You can get them about any racetrack we go to. They sell them trackside. But that is action performance, so...

KING: I got a 2-year-old boy and my little son Canon is 1-year- old today.

GORDON: I might be able to work a deal with you.

KING: I want to buy cars for the kids -- their movement crazy: airplanes and cars and trucks and trains, and I'm going to get them some Jeff Gordon cars.

GORDON: That would be great. We will arrange that, for sure.

KING: OK. For the boys.

GORDON: You might not even have to pay for it.

KING: No, no, no, no, no. Journalists, we pay.

GORDON: We will charge you double, how is that?

KING: OK, that's bad too!

Eunika, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Jeff. Up here in upstate New York, we appreciate, you know, everything you have done for the fans...

(CROSSTALK)

CALLER: ... question, is if you had another career to choose -- and racing has been your career -- what might that be?

GORDON: Oh, boy. I would be in trouble, wouldn't I? You know...

KING: I would guess, television. No, you are kind of a natural, you like the camera, you are obviously out, you can -- you're going to sit in for us one night, that would be great.

GORDON: Yeah. I have enjoyed, you know, getting behind the camera and doing commercials and different things, but I don't know if that would be my choice. I really have enjoyed the business side of racing. I'm fortunate enough now where I'm a part owner of my race team, and so I would love to see -- to be more involved with that.

And that is really what I have tried to set myself up with -- with the new contract that I have signed with Hendreich Motor Sports is that one day when I'm not driving, that I'm able to be involved with the race team, and some aspect of not only nurturing a driver, but seeing an entire team come together. I've been a part of championship teams for quite a while, and I feel like, you know, it's some experience that I have.

KING: You are a good driver, Jeff, on the street?

GORDON: I like to think so. My wife might think different. But, you know, all I can say is that I have not had any tickets or any crashes on the street that I know of in quite a while. So, I feel pretty fortunate and feel like I am a safe driver. I get all the speed out of my system on the weekend.

KING: What kind of a car do you drive?

GORDON: Well, I'm drove a Chevy Tahoe here tonight, but I, you know, I really...

KING: Are you a car collector?

GORDON: I'm not a car person, I really am not.

KING: You are not into cars?

GORDON: I like to go SCUBA diving, I like to play golf. I like to get on the water. I'm a boat guy, definitely.

KING: So, here we learn that Jeff Gordon is not into cars. Imagine if he really got interested now.

GORDON: I'm into race cars.

KING: We will take a break, come back, get another call or two. And don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We are back. Waterloo, Iowa for Jeff Gordon, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Jeff. Congratulations on the Winston, and good luck on the 600.

GORDON: Thank you.

CALLER: And my question is, Tony's name has already come up, so I can say that. Did Joe or Tony offer to pay for any damages after the checkered flag?

GORDON: No.

CALLER: Any kind of deals like that?

GORDON: You are talking about at Bristol?

CALLER: Yeah.

GORDON: No. No. I think, you know, NASCAR pretty much handles those situations, and really we take into account whatever happens out there on the racetrack, whether it be before the race or after the race, pretty much we are picking up the bill.

KING: What did he do to you?

GORDON: Well, we got together on the last lap. He ended up spinning out, and he wasn't real happy with me, so on pit row afterwards, he came down and hit me in the rear bumper and spun me out. It didn't did too much damage, but it did do a little bit of damage.

KING: Did you get mad?

GORDON: Well, he got fined by NASCAR, so -- you know, I feel like they took care of it.

KING: Hawaii, last call, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I would like to just ask Jeff if he thinks NASCAR, with going to all the safeties, is it going to make it unenjoyable for the fans by taking the speeds down?

GORDON: No, not at all. I think that, actually, sometimes you can see better racing when the speeds come down. Sometimes we get going so fast through the corners at some of these racetracks, and the aerodynamics have become so important that that is why sometimes you haven't seen as much exciting racing, like last year.

This year, it seems to be back. Seems like -- entirely Goodyear has the combinations that we have, that there has been great racing. But, you know, there are -- there are a lot of ways that we can make these cars safer, and they are looking into a lot of different things.

Plus the teams are participating in that. We have already taken big strides, because of what's happened over the last year, year and half, and you know, slowing the cars down is -- they tried that in New Hampshire, and it really didn't work -- it didn't -- the corner speeds were still the same, they tried to slow the cars down the straightaway. It didn't really work, but restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, they've got to continue with something like that.

KING: Are a lot of what they have learned about tires incorporated into the tires I drive?

GORDON: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. You know, Goodyear, who does all of our tires, so much of their technology from racing is transferred over to the street, and sometimes vice versa. Sometimes they find things for the street that actually works good for racing, but oh yeah, absolutely.

KING: Jeff, thinking about a family soon, do you think?

GORDON: You are putting me on the spot here, Larry. I think about it all the time. There is no doubt that my wife and I would love to have children some day. How far away is that? You know, hard to tell. But we look forward to that some day.

KING: And if he is a little boy, you wouldn't mind if went racing?

GORDON: You know, it would be hard to not want to go racing if you are a boy that grows up.

KING: But you wouldn't...

GORDON: ... with mom and dad at the racetrack. I wouldn't mind. You know, I also wanted to pursue, want to allow them to pursue other things, too. I don't want that to be the only thing that comes to mind. I want them to do what they like and what they feel like they are talented at.

KING: Always great having you, Jeff. Great seeing you.

GORDON: I enjoy being on, Larry. You are a great host, and I look...

KING: You're the man.

GORDON: ... forward some day maybe to...

KING: You would be hosting.

GORDON: Yeah, I'd like that.

KING: You'd be sitting in this chair.

GORDON: No, I won't take your chair, not your chair, thank you.

KING: Tom Brokaw tomorrow night. "CNN TONIGHT" is next.

I'm Larry King. For Jeff Gordon and the whole crew, thanks for joining us, and good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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