Race Weekend Central

Thompson in Turn 5: Robby Gordon Just Being Robby

It has just been a year since I wrote the article “Robby Gordon: NASCAR’s Lone Wolf” in which I touched on some of the uniqueness that is Robby Gordon. I was somewhat surprised to learn after the Frontstretch article appeared that the California native has a considerably larger fanbase than I had estimated. Likewise, I was equally dumbfounded that those same fans didn’t latch on to my “Lone Wolf” moniker and begin using it routinely and endearingly when referring to their favorite driver. Apparently, the name wasn’t as clever as I had originally believed it to be.

In all seriousness, I had suspected that the whole nickname thing might be too much of a mouthful for everyday use. I would have been tickled if his fans had even shortened it; say to “Wolf,” or something like that. But… nothing? Oh, well; all that aside, nothing that has transpired at “Camp Robby” in the last year has diminished my belief that Gordon does not run with the main pack of NASCAR drivers; and neither has my opinion that he is a man unto himself amongst his racing peers.

Six races into the 2007 Cup season, Gordon was 23rd in the driver points standings, and this year, not much has changed – even though the makeup of his team has. Never mind that he and his RGM crew pulled off a last-minute manufacturer switch prior to Daytona that sees Robby now campaigning for Dodge rather than Chevrolet; the No. 7 entry still finds itself 25th in points after the sixth race of 2008 at Martinsville. That’s certainly not a big slip in performance for a team that many expected to be on life support by now, as last year’s well-financed Toyota programs have begun to rise in the standings.

That the chronically sponsor-challenged Gordon still continues to defy the almost impossible odds of actually competing as a one-car team and an owner/driver is enough to in itself to root for the true NASCAR underdog. It’s a feat that this writer continues to marvel over and believes has never received the accolades that Gordon’s accomplishment is deserving of. But just for sheer entertainment value, it is easy for me to understand why Gordon has his legion of fans.

In today’s NASCAR environment, drivers are generally required to be conscious of their roles as corporate representatives for the folks whose logo is prominently displayed on the hoods of their racecars. However, many fans have found their “choir boy-exciting-as-wingtips” personalities off-putting. But Robby Gordon has tapped his particular fanbase due to his being the antithesis to the politically correct NASCAR norm; and fans have responded to that in droves.

What has Robby done lately? Well, he has taken the term “not politically correct” to perhaps its most literal form, and on a global scale. This time, Robby has even outdone Robby… and some might say that his take it to the limit conduct on and off the track is exactly why the majority of his supporters like the guy.

Following the cancellation of the Dakar Rally this January, Gordon, who claims to have lost upwards of $4 million as a result, had unkind words for the race organizers for canceling the event due to what were reported to be “direct” threats of terrorism from al-Qaeda linked militant groups. The threats followed on the heels of a Dec. 24, 2007 slaying of French tourists by militants in Mauritania; however, despite that incident, Gordon argued that at least part of the 16-day event should have been run.

Gordon decided to support his argument by rationalizing it this way:

“Let’s put it in perspective,” he said. “11 people got killed over there. I’m pretty sure in L.A., we kill 11 a night on the streets of L.A., it was a couple of kids in the back of a pickup truck with a couple of AK-47s who shot a couple of people.”

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Wow! I doubt that anyone saw that coming. Robby Gordon Motorsports’ Marketing Department must have tripped a circuit breaker when word of that outburst reached their desks. It was a double whammy of sorts for them; giving negative commentary on crime in America and thumbing his nose at militants in the same breath. Surely, Gordon understands that it isn’t necessarily Marketing’s fault they have so much difficulty finding Fortune 500 companies eager to sign up for a long-term commitment with the team.

But the upshot to this latest Robby moment is that his comments went largely unnoticed; well, almost. One of Gordon’s sponsors for the Dakar event took exception to his remarks, and requested that he quit modeling their logo on his driving suit and return $1.15 million in sponsorship money. Security software firm Vanguard Integrity Professionals have sued Gordon, and are making it perfectly clear that they do not support his racing endeavors any longer.

Vanguard had been signed to sponsor Gordon’s Dakar efforts through 2010; however, Gordon’s post-cancellation comments were among a myriad of reasons given for the company wishing to disassociate themselves from Gordon and his team.

The security firm issued the following official statement:

“It is not positive to be associated with someone who said al-Qaeda attacks are no worse than an average night in America, especially for a security software company. It’s simply not a true or accurate statement.”

But holding firm to his beliefs, Gordon insists that Vanguard cannot legally cancel their contract with him. In fact, he’s publicly explained he’ll fight any such decision tooth and nail.

This conflict, in my mind, beats Robby’s past misdeeds hands down; he has definitely taken the term “controversial driver” to a whole new level. But just like his previous missteps, it is doubtful that this latest headliner will permanently damage him. I’ve watched this guy long enough now to know if nothing else, you don’t bet against him.

Whether taking on international terrorism or the NASCAR establishment, Gordon does not follow the beaten path. He seems committed to being his own person, not willing to kowtow to other drivers, owners, sponsors, or NASCAR. With that in mind, there is small wonder that Gordon has such a loyal following of fans that appreciate Robby being no one else but Robby.

And that’s my view from Turn 5.

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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