No. 48 driver tells story of how instrumental Gordon was in his early career Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- As Jimmie Johnson continues his pursuit of a seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, teammate Jeff Gordon renews his own pursuit for a fifth championship. The biggest difference, outside the career totals, is that Johnson, at 39, has time on his side. Gordon, at 43, does not. But not because of his age, as his highly competitive 2014 effort proved. While his career could be extended by several years, Gordon announced last month that that would not be the case. The 2015 season will be his last. MORE: Full coverage of Gordon's final full-time season "I look at my own arc in life and in motorsports," Johnson said Thursday during the annual NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway, "and the fact that he gave me my chance, created a team for me to go racing, and then what has happened from there. "You won't see another competitor out there singing his praises, I think, like me." Before Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick offered Gordon a piece of a new Sprint Cup team that would debut in 2001, there was no No. 48 team at HMS. Johnson, a former off-road racer, was a level below Sprint Cup, looking for a break. Gordon, already a three-time champion, was a fellow racer from the west coast, one of the first to successfully make the crossover from open wheel sprints to the heavier stock cars. He might not have known who Johnson was, but Johnson surely knew of Gordon's exploits. "I doubt he'll remember and we never had a chance to formally meet," Johnson said, but at test sessions, I guess in '99 and even in 2000 when he was running some (XFINITY) stuff … every now and then the 24 car would be there and I would always try to linger by his pit and try to introduce myself to him, and it never worked out." Eventually, Johnson said he took matter into his own hands. His team at the time, owned by William Herzog, was exiting the series and he needed career advice. RELATED: Johnson reflects on Chase format a year later At Michigan in the summer of 2000, he got more than that. "The only opportunities I had involved switching manufacturers … and I knew Jeff left Bill Davis and Ford and went to Rick Hendrick and Chevy and I thought he had like the magic answer, so I introduced myself at the drivers' meeting, asked him for a few minutes of time," Johnson said. "He brought me back to the transporter, we talked briefly before the start of the race, and after I told him my situation, he gave me some advice, and then said, 'you're not going to believe this, but we're talking about starting a fourth team, and your name is the only name that's been brought up.' "So just in a 30‑minute window of time, what all went on, starting out trying to work up the nerve to introduce myself to him, looking for some advice, and then practically leaving with the job was just insane. It was the wildest 30 minutes of my life." But it's not only the impact on his own career, Johnson said, that stands out. Gordon opened the door for NASCAR on a number of levels on and off the race track. RELATED: Find out how Kahne learned of Gordon's decision "I think now since we know it's his final year, we're all looking back and having some 'aha' moments,” Johnson said. "He really was instrumental, in my opinion, in helping car owners and sponsors realize that there are drivers far and wide that can come in and be competitive, and he opened the door for (Tony) Stewart, and Stewart opened the door further for myself and Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse. Now we have more drivers from the state of California than any other state; it's wild to think in NASCAR that that's the case, and I think Jeff is responsible for that trend happening. "You look at when Jeff and Dale Earnhardt and their competitive nature in our sport, kind of falling into mainstream media at that point -- we needed a clean‑cut, well‑spoken person to kind of carry the sport. Jeff was that guy. His dominance helped our sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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Trailblazer becomes first African-American inducted into NASCAR Hall Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: See the NASCAR Hall of Fame class by class CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Wendell Scott often broadcast his do-it-yourself work ethic on his cars, which frequently sported hand-painted letters to read: "Mechanic: Me!" Though Scott's automotive know-how was largely self-made, he usually had an audience of his seven children watching, begging to help the family cause within their Danville, Virginia shop. Scott would often shoo his kids out, telling them to go play elsewhere. But for young Deborah Scott, she yearned to be in her father's racing shop just a little while longer. "I loved it when he would be on the creeper under the car working and he needed a tool," she recalled. "… It grew on me. I started liking to get dirty." Now married as Deborah Scott Davis , 64, she was part of a vocal contingent of friends and family with Danville ties witnessing her father's induction Friday evening as part of the 2015 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On a night filled with stories pulled from NASCAR lore, Davis' remembrances from her youth stood out. As she joined her siblings to receive a proclamation from the town's mayor late Friday night, her brother Frank remarked that Davis deserved credit as likely the best mechanic of the bunch. His comment came without exaggeration -- Davis transferred a lifetime of automotive knowledge handed down from her father into a long career building cars for Ford Motor Company, first at an assembly plant in the Atlanta area and now near her Louisville, Kentucky home. Davis still has fond memories of those days growing up, watching her father do more with less. And like her father, who died in 1990, she shouldered many responsibilities for the family-run race team, helping as a mechanic's assistant, the team's scorekeeper and -- when she was old enough to get her driver's license -- a parts runner. Davis said some of the most gratifying help she offered the family racing effort was as the official scorekeeper, back in the old-school days before electronic timing and scoring was even a dream. Back then, one person with a score sheet was assigned to each car. Each score sheet had a number of small boxes for each lap, and the scorekeeper dutifully marked the time from the scorer's clock in each numbered box whenever their car came past. By Davis' estimation, she only missed one lap in her time as scorekeeper, which ended only when she left for college. That lap was early in the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , when a multi-car crash triggered a massive fire that eventually claimed the life of Fireball Roberts, a fellow member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Scoring Roberts' car that day was his daughter, Pamela, who Davis -- also a teenager at the time -- counted among her best friends. "We sat there and were watching our fathers, and her dad didn't come around," Davis recalled, "and we saw this black, rolling smoke behind us and when we turned back to look on the backstretch, I missed my dad going by. Her dad couldn't come by." Because events on the larger speedways of the era used backup scorers, Scott's missed lap was restored and he remained credited with a ninth-place finish. "I didn't cost him any positions or any money," Davis said, "but that was one of the incidents where I promised never, no matter what happened, I would keep my attention." MORE: Best photos from the NASCAR Hall of Fame induction " Scott among five inductees Davis said the children wouldn't travel to every race, mostly to those close enough to the family's home and on dates that wouldn't interfere with their school work. That's why, she said, none of them were present when Scott posted his only victory in NASCAR's top division on a school night -- Sunday, Dec. 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. "Of course, we all wish we had been," Davis said. "Of all the races, we weren't there." When Scott came home as a winner, he received a warm welcome. But the politics of the time wouldn't allow an African-American driver a celebration with the checkered flag or the trophy queen, tempering the family's excitement. Scott was eventually credited with completing 202 laps in the scheduled 200-lap race, but that achievement wasn't recognized on that Sunday night in Jacksonville. "Mixed emotions because here it was, he had won, but not in the right honorable way that he should've been able to celebrate because as you know, he knew he was winning the race," Davis said. "He knew when he took the lead and how many more laps there were to go and as history tells it now, correctly, yes, he did go two laps extra to win the race and still not receive the honor at that time." Race officials initially credited runner-up Buck Baker with the victory, claiming that a scoring error had taken place. If Davis had been there, she said, there would have been no dispute. "They couldn't have gotten around me," she said. "I really don't believe they could have gotten around me." Davis' expertise with a wrench extended beyond helping on the race car. Frank Scott recalled a trip to Michigan International Speedway in the 1960s, traveling with his father, his sister and brother Wendell Jr. -- four of them on the single bench seat -- when the truck hauling the race car broke down. Wendell Sr. and Jr. hitchhiked to the nearest township to get parts, leaving Frank and his sister to prepare the engine for the repairs. "Daddy said to have the motor torn down by the time he got back," Frank Scott said. "Deborah got up under the hood, and I was breaking the bolts to loosen them and she would take them out. She was like a little grease monkey, and that kind of led her into her adult life when she joined the automotive division working for Ford in Atlanta. Even right then, she started cutting her teeth. She had a mechanical instinct and didn't mind getting grease up under her nails." Friday night in Charlotte, the Scott family had the largest delegation of supporters of any of the five inductees, with Frank Scott estimating the number to be "in excess of 100" and from all over the country. For Deborah Scott Davis , the wait to hear her father's name called was a long time coming, but one made all the more satisfying because her mother, Mary, who could not attend the induction because of her health, was able to hear it as well. "Deservingly so," Davis said. "I think the time aspect, I think our friends and some of the fans didn't understand why he wouldn't be in the first class, the second class -- I'm OK with the timing of it. Just in the nick of time, I feel like, while our mom is still here. Couldn't have happened in a better year. "When the announcement was made, it just automatically lifted me out of the chair. Yes, finally -- whew! Years before, you can't be but so sad. At least he's nominated, at least he's getting closer and closer, and then it happened. It means so, so much."
Sawyer to take over for Little, who moves to new managing director position Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Chad Little, the former managing director for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, has been named Managing Director, Technical Inspection/Officiating, and Elton Sawyer has been named to Little's previous position overseeing the Camping World Truck Series. The moves come as NASCAR prepares to kick off its 2015 season later this month at Daytona International Speedway . Little, a former driver with more than 200 career starts in NASCAR's premier series, oversaw the Camping World Truck Series from 2013-14. The reliance on technological resources and innovations has never been more evident in the sport, and it will be up to Little to help digest and direct the information gleaned from such advances. The last two years have seen the use of a laser-guided measuring system for the inspection process as well as a paperless mobile inspection application that is faster and more detailed. For 2015, a new officiating process that will rely on cameras and video to help police pit road is set to come into play. "I will work with the series directors and our managing supervisors of officials, and I'll also be working with the vehicle section experts, our engineers, at the NASCAR Research & Development Center," Little told NASCAR.com Monday. "We'll try as hard as we can to button up our processes … look at all of our processes for inspection and officiating and see if we can continue to improve on all those. We spent a lot of time and effort the last several months on mobile officiating devices at the track, pit road technology, on our electronic rule book. We just wanted to make sure that we're taking advantage of all that." Little said he will be involved in overseeing all three national series -- Sprint Cup , XFINITY and Camping World Truck series -- but that his role will be focused on what occurs behind-the-scenes. Series directors will continue to manage their respective events. Sawyer is also a former driver, and has held a variety of positions in the sport. That diversity, he said, should help him as he steps into his new role with the Truck Series. "Patty and I actually owned an XFINITY team back in the early '90s," Sawyer said of he and his wife, Patty Moise, who is a former racer as well, "so I had some experience on the ownership side. "I've been a crew member … working for (team owner) Bill Davis on a Ford driven by a young competitor named Jeff Gordon . Now we go full circle, (Gordon's) getting ready to retire." Sawyer also worked with former owner Ray Evernham in bringing Dodge back into NASCAR and served as competition director for Red Bull Racing during its brief stock car experience. The past four years have seen him working in IMSA as director of race team operations for Action Express. "Wayne Auton and Chad have done a tremendous job over the last 20 or so years with this series," Sawyer said of the two previous directors. "I went ahead and just put my rookie yellow stripe on." Getting familiar with those he doesn't know in the series will come in time, he said, but his past experiences with those in charge has given him a good jumping off point for his new position. "It's a high priority. I always appreciated that you could always approach John (Darby, Sprint Cup director), good or bad, you could ask him a question and you may not get the answer you were looking for, but he gave you an honest, upfront and I felt like, a fair answer. "I think just being transparent, being open, being in the garage is a big part of that." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Young driver to pilot No. 4 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Ross Chastain has inked a deal to drive for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller and pilot the team's No. 4 Chevrolet in the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2015, the team announced. Chastain will have sponsorship from Watermelon.org for his car. The 22-year-old Alva, Florida native ran seven races last season in what was then-called the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His best finish came with a 10th-place result at Kentucky Speedway in September. Last season also marked Chastain's debut in the series. In addition, Chastain has driven in 44 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events over the course of four seasons. In those races, he has five top-fives, 12 top-10s and two Keystone Light Pole Awards. "Ross has an amazing level of experience for a young driver," team owner Johnny Davis said in a team release. "He brings a lot to our team. We're looking forward to seeing how far we can go this year with his input and the support of Watermelon.org and the National Watermelon Association. It's going to be a big year." For his part, Chastain is excited for the season to get started. "It's great to be involved with Watermelon.org, and we want to take them along for a great ride this year," Chastain said in a team release. "I'm looking forward to working with Johnny and his guys and making a mark this year in XFINITY ." Chastain joins Landon Cassill and Harrison Rhodes in the JD Motorsports stable of XFINITY Series drivers. Rhodes announced on Twitter two weeks ago that he was joining JD Motorsports. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Matthew Dillner takes you behind the scenes at Daytona International Speedway to get you up close and personal with the stars and cars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
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