Stepping away from racing
You never know how long you’re going to be able to do anything in life. Anything can happen on any given day. With my racing career, I just thought it was going to go on forever and ever.
It was hard for me to comprehend not racing, so I really thought I could go on for as long as I wanted to.
The news of Jeff Gordon vacating the No. 24 car at season’s came as no surprise to me, because he’s been hurt a few times. He’s accomplished so much during his time in the sport. Having a family changes your perspective on life in the right direction. I know Jeff is religious, so that’s fantastic. I’m happy for him.
The sport is going to miss him; it’s not like he’s riding around. He’s competing for wins, and was a couple laps shy of advancing to the championship round last season.
I look back at some of the things I did in the latter year of my career, and I say, ‘well, I was helping some friends, and that’s okay,” and that’s how I justify it, but it sure didn’t look that good.
What really ended my opportunity to win races and run competitively was when I bought the late Alan Kulwicki’s team in 1993. We did have success, and things were going well on the track, but our sponsorship programs were falling apart. People weren’t paying the money they promised they would pay.
I ended up getting partners for the team, and they ended up buying me out. That’s when my career changed. And, of course, the accident at Daytona in 2000 in the Truck Series was another factor in my career; scaling me back part-time thereafter.
Even at that, I had some great opportunities with James Finch, almost winning the 2002 Daytona 500, but a sponsorship problem developed and that opportunity was gone. Sponsorship woes are a big reason to why my career ended the way it did. I never stepped away or retired from the sport after the Phoenix Racing deal.
I started helping friends. They were struggling, I reached out to help and maybe ended up driving cars I shouldn’t have been, but I was helping somebody.
After a while, not running good and struggling gets pretty old. That’s really the main reason I cut back.
I might have been out of a Cup car for several years, but I never retired. And when I got back into the series in 2009, I felt like I hadn’t missed a beat.
Yet, during my career, I always drove a car that I could win with. When you get in a car that you know you’re not going to win in, it gets old after a while. I had said I wasn’t going to do it anymore. If I couldn’t land a competitive ride, I wasn’t going to race anymore.
In 2011, I ended up with a good opportunity with Luke & Associates as a sponsor. I took it to Tommy Baldwin, and we qualified for four races. We made our first attempt that season at the Daytona July race, qualifying the car in on time. It opened the opportunity for more races that season.
But unfortunately, a lot of things in that situation happened, and we lost the opportunity for that to grow where we thought it might. When I got out of the car at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November 2011, I knew pretty much that would be my last race in NASCAR. We were hoping our sponsor would do some more with us in 2012, but things came up with their business that they had to stop.
I never stepped away from racing, racing stepped away from me.
I knew my racing career would be over, but that was okay. There are a lot of things to do other than drive racecars. I have met a lot of great people through racing. Melbourne, Florida has been no exception.
I met A.J. Hiers, a great car dealer in Melbourne, and little over three years ago, we started a Honda Powersports store together. I’m still building bobsleds—the BO-DYN Bobsleds are still out there, going strong.
Last winter, I designed and built a bobsled that was developed for training and Paralympic use. It’s being used right now, and hopefully one day bobsledding will be a Paralympic sport.
I’ve been blessed, and it’s all because of racing. All those laps I turned, the checkered flags I took and some of the crashes I was involved in have given me the opportunity to do things like building bobsleds and helping charities.
I’m a blessed guy; I still work hard. I’m never going to retire from anything. It seems like my life is busier now than when I was racing full-time.
So I hope for whoever keeps racing, they think about what it’s looking like. It didn’t matter to me, but it didn’t look that good.
I have a lot of respect for anyone that wants to continue to race at the professional level. I wanted to be the oldest winner in Cup history, but maybe it’ll be someone else.
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