Minute lasts all day for Gordon '97 champ promotes NASCAR, self in visit

A N.Y.

December 05, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Jeff Gordon emerges from the Waldorf Towers lobby in a dark brown suit and platinum tie, munching a banana.

This is the way NASCAR's Winston Cup champion begins a full day of promotion in the media capital of the world.

A black limousine is waiting outside the door to take Gordon to his first appointment. It is the lightest day on his five-day schedule that includes 28 appearances of one kind or another and interviews with everyone from Charlie Rose, Regis and Kathie Lee to "Good Morning America."

But even a slow day will keep him moving from 9: 30 a.m. to after 11 p.m. It's a good thing he's just 27 and has his voice back after undergoing surgery to remove a polyp on his vocal cords two weeks ago.

"This is how I enjoy New York," Gordon says, sitting back, looking out the limo's window at Manhattan. "When I come to New York, I want a limo all the time. A nice, big suite at the Waldorf. Last night, Brooke [his wife] and I went to a play, 'The Titanic.' It got mixed reviews, but we really liked it. And then we went to dinner."

Asked if he has a favorite restaurant, he nods enthusiastically.

"I do now, Le Cirque," he says. "It was great. Brooke and I shared chateaubriand."

Gordon is wired with a microphone, and David Nichols of Lingner Group Productions is recording his every move, gathering footage for a movie about Gordon's week. The movie will be shown tonight at the Winston Cup Awards Banquet at the Waldorf Astoria, where Gordon will pick up his second championship trophy and winnings of nearly $6 million. His share of that take is about $2.5 million.

Carsick? It's no joke

Just a few minutes into this morning ride, Gordon looks toward the front of the car and asks if the air conditioner can be turned up. It's 40 degrees outside and not warm inside the car. Gordon, who won 10 races this season, smiles apologetically.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I get carsick. I know, people laugh at me. But sitting in the back of a long limo, it happens sometimes. I have to keep cool air blowing on my face."

At FX network studios, he is greeted by Laura Fisher, the talent booker, who rushes him upstairs. Does he want makeup? "Yes," he says.

"If you've ever seen yourself on TV without it and with it, you know you need makeup," Gordon tells the makeup artist as she dusts his nose. "At 'Good Morning America,' they really cake it on. I thought I looked like a clown, but on TV it made me look like I should."

After a little hair spray, Gordon is ready to go to the set and meet John Davis, who will interview him for the show that airs at 5: 30 p.m. Sunday. Davis wants to know how much money Gordon will collect for the title, how winning now differs from 1995, what's going through his mind when he's driving a race car. They are questions Gordon will hear over and over throughout the week.

"But these interviews are different in a sense from 1995," he says later. "The people asking the questions still feel their audiences need to be educated, because it's not an audience we usually talk to. But the thing I've seen in the last five years, even in the last two, since I last did this, is a change in awareness. When I came out of the 'Good Morning America' studio, there were nearly 50 people lined up for my autograph. Even in New York, people know Jeff Gordon and Winston Cup racing."

Why not? The latest issue of People magazine named him one of its 50 most beautiful people. He's tickled.

"You know, Brooke and I like to read People magazine," Gordon says. "So it's fun to find yourself in it. We also like to watch Regis and Kathie Lee when we're getting up in the morning, so we're excited about being on that show. We're just like everyone else. We're fans, too."

When money is no object

As Gordon is leaving the studio, a member of the "Backchat" crew asks him: "If you could buy any car, what would it be?"

"If money was no object, a Lamborghini," he says.

Gordon is picking up $2.5 million tonight, so it sounds funny to hear him say, "if money was no object." But he says it's not funny at all.

"It's all relative," he says. "I pay $250 for a pair of shoes, a thousand or two for a new suit. Everything is in perspective. There are limits. You could make $10 million and be saying, 'If I could only make $15 million.' You have to be really careful. You start buying too much, and pretty soon all the money is gone."

One minute, Gordon is talking about all the perks of wealth, and, the next, he's out of the limo and walking to a diner on 52nd street for open-faced hot turkey sandwiches and talking about how much he and Brooke like to go bowling.

"We have our own balls and shoes, and she usually beats me the first game and then I beat her the next two," he says. "I'm not really very good at it. My best score is probably 147. My average, maybe 105, but it is so much fun."

Beaming him out of there

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