Jeff Gordon prepares for final start at NHMS
LOUDON, N.H. — He is the only driver to have started every Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he owns three victories, five poles, and ranks as the leader in laps led (1,373) and completed (11,9676 of 12,159).
When Jeff Gordon, who announced in January that the 2015 season would be his last, makes his 42d start at NHMS, the 44-year-old driver of the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet will add another milestone. With his 789th consecutive start in Sunday’s Sylvania 300, Gordon will pass Ricky Rudd as NASCAR’s iron man.
Rudd made 788 consecutive starts from 1981-2005.
“If you think about it, his first race was in Atlanta in the season finale in 1992,’’ said Jerry Gappens, NHMS executive vice president and general manager. “It was Richard Petty’s last race and Jeff Gordon’s first race, and he has not missed a race since November of 1992.
“So imagine not missing a day of work from 1992 all the way through this weekend, especially in our sport where there are injuries just like any other sport or there’s days where you might not be able to answer the call. But he’s done it and that’s quite a remarkable feat.’’
“I have many fond memories of racing in New Hampshire,” Gordon said in a statement released by the track. “I have raced here since 1991, and it’s been a heck of a ride.’’
Track officials Friday will break ground on the Northeast Motorsports Museum, which was the brainchild of longtime author and racing commentator Dick Berggren, who approached Gappens with the idea soon after O. Bruton Smith purchased the track from Bob Bahre in 2008.
“He had a vision for a museum that captured the history of racing in New England,’’ Gappens said. “It’s got a rich history with big cars, with stock cars, motorcycles, drag racing, all forms of motorsports here.’’
Gappens credited Berggren for his dogged fund-raising effort “in an era when it was really hard to raise money with the economic downturn.”
“The great news is, his perseverance has paid off,’’ Gappens added. “They’ve got a board of directors, they have raised enough money to go ahead and build the building, and we wanted it to be on-site.’’
Gappens said excavation on the museum, to be located a mile south of the track on Route 106, will begin immediately, with a grand opening projected for next September.
“My goal as the general manager of this facility is to try and make this a destination,’’ Gappens said. “And a museum is a great destination to attract people year-round.’’
Miles to go
In addition to making his Sprint Cup debut this weekend, Whelen Modified driver Ryan Preece of Berlin, Conn., will attempt to maintain his 1-point lead over Woody Pitkat in Saturday’s F.W. Webb 100. Pitkat is the winner of two of the last three Modified races at NHMS. Preece has yet to win in 18 career starts at NHMS, where his best finish is third (four times). “I’ve never been really good at chess, and this race seems like a chess game, so I’ve got to study a little bit more,’’ Preece said . . . Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet sponsored by Toy State, a Norwood, Mass.-based toymaker, made a surprise visit to Boston Children’s Hospital Thursday. He didn’t go to give out autographs but to collect them from patients, who signed his helmet in exchange for a small piece of his car. “Drivers are the ones who always get asked to sign things, but I asked the kids for their autographs on my race helmet so they could ride along with me in three races at the end of the season in my Sprint Cup car,’’ said Bowman. “We want the kids to get well and have something to look forward to.’’