John Bickford discusses Canadian Motor Speedway and Jeff Gordon’s careerBy Ashley McCubbin
While Canadian fans have experienced NASCAR racing on their turf with the Nationwide Series cars in Montreal and now the Camping World Truck Series in Ontario, there is one thing that they are craving – a race on an oval. However, looking across Canada, there isn’t a facility that could host an event.
Jeff Gordon is all about trying to change that by working with Paxton Waters in trying to build a one mile oval in Fort Erie, Ontario. The land is bought, and the project for the Canadian Motor Speedway is in the planning stages, however has been held up with board meetings for approval. There is one next month, and then after that they hope to break ground and get the track built.
CMS officials were at the Canadian Motorsports Expo powered by Inside Track Motorsports News this past weekend and on hand was Jeff Gordon’s step-dad and business manager John Bickford. In speaking with Bickford this past weekend, he said that Gordon has wanted a race in Canada since going to Japan for an exhibition race in 1998. Gordon also questioned the trip to Mexico, continuing to ask for that race. When he learned that there was no facility available, that is when the project began.
“Jeff has always wanted to come to Canada,” Bickford said. “He and I were here in 1989/1990. We’ve always been big supporters. Canadian race fans have supported Jeff throughout his entire career. So I think the idea of giving back is an important component. We’re just advocates of giving back to the Canadian race fans and we’re not giving up.”
Canadian fans have proven their dedication in the past, with the attendance at events in the United States being made up of 10-20% Canadians. Many are also Gordon fans, having followed his career from the beginning. Younger drivers have looked at his career path, trying to follow the same steps to hopefully land where Gordon is today. Bickford said he got Gordon started in quarter midgets after Carol, Gordon’s mom, wasn’t happy with Gordon racing bicycles around the neighborhood.
“I knew about quarter midgets so I brought a quarter midget home,” Bickford said. “He fell in love with it and we took it to the race track to see if he liked it and he did. He always loved cars. As a one year old, he liked cars. Sort of a natural thing for him.”
While they continued growing through the racing ladders, Bickford said there was no moment that stood out for him as it was all about moving up to that next step in the racing ladder.
“Like I believed in him from the first moment he drove a car,” he said. “I always believed we could go farther and farther. It was always keep your head down and work hard towards the next opportunity.”
The road wasn’t easy for them, also, because Gordon was one of the first to move up from quarter midgets to NASCAR.
“I think Jeff was the youngest guys to do it and he opened the path way for all the young guys,” Bickford commented. “I think what happened is the world is changing and financial aspects have changed. I think other things have changed because with more doors opening. More parents are out there doing go-karts, quarter midgets, compared to when Jeff was doing it, there was only four or five kids doing what he is doing. Before there was not a lot of supply for a lot of demand. Now there’s not enough demand for supply.”
One of the young starts that Bickford has his eye on is Kyle Larson, seeing a lot of similarities between Larson and Gordon.
When it comes to getting your kid out there, Bickford says it’s all about developing a plan and sticking to it.
“Education has to be apart of the plan,” he added. “I think today’s kids, what they’re asked of when they get into racing, education is very critical and it’s not so much that they need to be engineers, but a small college education is very very important. It’s important from all aspects. It’s important to work with a team and be educated in mathematics. It’s also important with your English and vocabulary. Also, someone who has a successful college education has had a lot of life experience.”