This weekend, prior to the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the time-honored tradition of giving the command to start engines will once again be afforded to the NASCAR moms in honor of Mother’s Day.
[media-credit name=”sp.ask.com” align=”alignright” width=”106″][/media-credit]Amongst the group again this year will be Carol Bickford, four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s mother. And there is just one word that she has to sum up her feelings about her son this Mother’s Day, proud.
“We always go to Darlington and we do the little Mother’s Day ‘Sons start your engines’ thing,” Bickford said. “Then we get introduced with our sons.”
“And I get to see some of the other mothers that I’ve met over the years,” Bickford continued. “That’s always nice to catch up. We do it once a year and it’s really fun, as well as a proud moment.”
For Carol Bickford, being the mother of one of NASCAR’s brightest stars has most certainly had it joys, as well as challenges. But it has been a journey that Bickford will always treasure.
“It’s been fun,” Bickford said. “It’s been interesting. It’s been filled with a lot of pride and some great moments. Some not so great moments sometimes, but that’s all part of life.”
“I think that every parent is faced with some big challenges in raising children, period,” Bickford continued philosophically. “It’s one of the greatest challenges that I think a parent can have is raising their children. Your biggest joy is to know that they turn out happy, successful in any direction that they go, and that they turn out to be good people.”
Bickford and her husband John, who will celebrate their 38th wedding anniversary after Mother’s Day, knew early on that their son Jeff Gordon would have a career in racing.
“Very early on, we knew that Jeff would be interested in racing,” Bickford said. “John, his step-father, has been a very big part of our lives for a good many years. He saw something in Jeff, the hand eye coordination type thing.”
“Jeff would play Atari video games and he was riding a two-wheel bike without training wheels at three years old,” Bickford continued. “That takes a lot of coordination.”
“Then he was racing BMX bikes when he was four years old and then we got into the quarter midget racing when he was four and a half,” Bickford said. “Jeff started going to the driving school at that time too. So, we knew pretty early on.”
While Bickford and her family did not have a racing connection when she was growing up, Bickford caught the racing bug herself in an unusual way.
“When I was growing up, my family wasn’t involved in racing but my father used to work for Continental Baking Company and he used to deliver hot dog and hamburger buns to Vallejo Speedway,” Bickford said. “Every Saturday night if they ran out of hot dog and hamburger buns, they always called him and I always wanted to go out there with him. I don’t know what the fascination was but I was probably ten or twelve years old at the time.”
While Bickford has always loved racing, she never quite felt the urge to get behind the wheel herself.
“The only thing I’ve ever done is drive a quarter midget with Jeff when we were teaching him how to set up and pass,” Bickford said. “I have no desire to drive but it’s fascinating to watch.”
Bickford still gets to the track as often as she can and, if she is not there in person, she is glued to her television set watching her son compete.
“These days, I don’t get to the track nearly as much as I used to a few years ago,” Bickford said. “There are still two race tracks that I’ve never been to, Fontana and Chicago.”
“But I’ve been to every other race track on the circuit many, many times,” Bickford continued. “I’m able to pick and choose the races and Jeff is understanding about that fact.”
Gordon’s mom did not miss watching the Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 this past weekend at Richmond either. Unfortunately, she had to see her son’s good run ruined by a wickedly hard crash into a non-safer barrier wall.
“He was having a very good night when unfortunately that happened,” Bickford said. “He got out of the car right away and I knew he was OK.”
“It just comes along with any sport,” Bickford continued. “If you focus on everything that can go wrong, you’ll drive yourself crazy.”
While she did not get to experience it this weekend, one of her biggest thrills as a mother is being in Victory Lane with her son.
“It’s wonderful!” Bickford said. “It’s the best feeling there is.”
“They are very proud moments and very happy moments when you’re fortunate enough to be standing in that position,” Bickford continued. “It’s a great feeling.”
But there is no better feeling, according to Bickford, than getting that phone call on Mother’s Day from her children.
“I won’t go into anything else they give me, but the phone call from all my children is the thing that makes me happiest,” Bickford said.
How will Carol Bickford feel this Mother’s Day when she not only gets those phone calls from her children but also gives the command for her son to start the engine on the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet? She sums it up in one word.
“Proud,” Bickford said simply. “I’m proud not just for what Jeff’s done on the race track or with his career but for what he’s done with his life.”
“Watching Jeff with his wife and his family and how he’s grown and matured,” Bickford continued. “There is just a very big sense of pride.”