This year NASCAR once again celebrated Champion’s Week in Las Vegas culminating with the Awards Banquet Friday night. The banquet is typically a solemn affair and this one would be more poignant than most as we said goodbye to four-time champ, Jeff Gordon. As each driver stepped up to the podium, there were the expected thanks to sponsors and team owners, the accolades for the new champ, Kyle Busch, but this ceremony delivered the unexpected.
When Martin Truex Jr. took the stage, no one was prepared for the quiet intensity that gripped our hearts.
There were no helmets to conceal the raw emotion and no sunglasses to hide the tears that glistened below the surface.
He spoke about girlfriend Sherry Pollex’s battle with ovarian cancer and the impact it has had on their lives. It changed their priorities.
“Life isn’t just about living,” he reminded us. “It’s about being alive.”
He also offered some advice for us all, saying, “Enjoy every moment, celebrate life, help others and never give up.”
And finally, as his voice cracked, he looked at Pollex and said, “Sherry, thank you for being in my life. You’re an inspiration, and I love you very much.”
Gordon, surprised with an introduction by his friend, Tom Cruise, wiped away tears before he walked to the stage. His face mirrored the range of conflicted emotions that overwhelmed him while he struggled to put words to those emotions. Several times, he had to take a moment to compose himself.
“Motorsports has provided me lifelong memories and stories that I get to reminisce and talk about for years and years to come. NASCAR, in particular, has changed my life in ways that I could never really even describe. It’s still really just a blur to me,” Gordon said. “It seems like it was just, you know, not that long ago that I was traveling from Indiana to North Carolina to see what NASCAR was even all about, and now here I am 25 years later stepping away from one of the most prestigious series in all of motorsports and a fulfilling career.” His voice broke and the tears began to flow as he went on to say, “That can truly only be described as remarkable, and for that, I am forever, forever thankful.”
He had to stop once again to collect his thoughts when expressing his gratitude to his team owners.
“Rick and Linda Hendrick, thank you so much; thank you so much for choosing me as your driver,” a tearful Gordon said. “I’m so proud to say I drove for one car owner, the best car owner, my entire Sprint Cup career. I want to thank everyone on the 24 team and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports who puts their blood, sweat and tears making the best teams in race cars every single day, and, of course, the team that I went to battle with this year and the last several years.
Gordon ended on a humorous note, describing all of the things he would not miss such as, “practicing in the middle of the day when it’s 90 degrees knowing that it’s a night race or standing next to a fan, in a urinal, who’s so excited to meet you that they don’t want to take the time to wash their hands before they shake your hand.”
What else wouldn’t he miss? “Leading the race, just seeing the white flag, flag man’s got that thing in his hand, he’s getting ready to wave it, and inches before you get there, caution comes out. No, not going to miss that one.”
He ended with one that will resonate with all racing fans. “And last but not least, debris cautions. Enough said.”