DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Jeff Gordon won his first Winston Cup championship, his wife stood on the podium with him in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom in New York, glamorous in a glittering, full-length gown of shimmering charcoal.
In the audience, the rumors started. The dress cost $80,000. Gordon had flown her on the Concorde -- twice -- to Paris for fittings.
Now, two years later, Brooke Gordon reaches out and touches your hand, laughing softly.
"Isn't that crazy?" she says. "I've never been to Europe. That should tell you right there."
She is warm and charming, this woman who is married to the two-time and defending Winston Cup champion. And through three years of marriage, she has heard more than a few rumors about herself, her husband and their relationship. The one about the dress is simply one of the nicer ones.
"At first, they kind of bothered me," she says. "Especially when they were negative toward Jeff and I knew they weren't true. But Jeff told me, and he's so good about it. He told me, 'Listen, we're not going to let things bother us. We're going to let things roll off our backs because we have a wonderful, beautiful life together and some people may be jealous of that and that's why they start these nasty rumors.'
"And that's just how I look at it, because I know the truth and Jeff knows the truth and we just live life the best way we can."
They look like Barbie and Ken dolls. He is 5 feet 6 and she is within a half-inch of him. She has long, brown hair, and he has the modern slicked back, corporate look with every hair in place.
"People say he looks very sophisticated and programmed," she says. "And he's a lot like that. He really does try always to be courteous and polite. I think his mother and stepfather always told him to have good manners, to treat people well and to act professional if you're going to be a professional in racing. And that probably started when he was around 13."
Brooke Gordon is 27, and eight months older than her husband. She was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, majoring in early education, when she decided to earn some extra money by answering an ad for a modeling agency that sent her to interview for the job of Miss Winston on the Winston Cup circuit.
She was not a race fan. She had never been to a race. She had never even watched one on television.
"I couldn't tell you a single driver's name," she says. "And that actually worked in my favor, because they didn't want a race fan, they wanted someone who would be professional, do their job and not be interested in watching a race. I got the job."
And then she met Jeff. That was five years ago and he hadn't won even one race, but she thought he'd be cocky, thought he'd be very much into himself and not care about other people's feelings.
"But the day I met him, he asked me to go out on our first date and he was so nervous," she says. "He acted like he couldn't get the words out. He started stuttering a little bit, and I just melted right there."
They have been apart a total of five days since that first date. And because she is so often with him, it is invariable that fans will ask for her autograph. She smiles, makes small talk and signs her name, but she says it is a situation that continues to take her by surprise.
"I feel I'm just his support system, behind him," she says. "I'm there with him through the good and bad times, and I'm surprised by how many interview requests and autograph requests I get. I try always to remember that Jeff is the celebrity."
It is a statement that would probably cause many women to gnash their teeth today. But Brooke Gordon doesn't seem to understand that. She says all she ever wanted was to grow up and marry someone "who loved me from the heart." She says she did that, and now, when anyone wants to know where her self-worth comes from, she simply points to the man in the rainbow-colored race car.
"I feel like when he's out on the racetrack, part of me is out there with him," she says. "The most special part of my heart is out there.
"So it's a wonderful life that we have. I love being there for him, and I'd never want him to have to go through anything without me."
Pub Date: 2/15/98