Jeff Gordon was five years old when he first got behind the steering wheel, racing on the Cracker Jack Track in Rio Linda, California. Within a year, the six-year old speedster had already won 35 main events and set several track records.
Today, Gordon is a four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion with three Daytona wins and four Brickyard 400 wins on the record books. Together with his Rainbow Warriors team, he remains a powerful force for Hendricks Motorsports nearly 20 years after making his Winston Cup debut. However, the 40-year-old father of two is also making a huge impact off the track through his work with the Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation.
Starting the Battle Against Childhood Cancer
“I began supporting organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society early in my career,” Gordon says. “The diagnosis of my former crew chief Ray Evenham’s son in 1992 inspired me to establish my foundation in hopes of helping children facing critical illnesses.
“Over the years, my passion to battle childhood cancer grew, and I wanted to shift our efforts to focus heavily on research, treatment, and patient support for children battling cancer,” Gordon explains. “Our work with Riley Hospital for Children, Make-A-Wish, Be The Match, and Children’s Oncology Group has really helped in shaping our foundation’s mission.”
Gordon and his wife, Ingrid Vandeobosch, have two children, Ella and Leo. The family splits their time between Manhattan and Charlotte, and Gordon selected Concord, North Carolina, as the location for the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital.
“I’m grateful for our healthy children and a successful career,” he says. “We want to help children gain their own victories over pediatric cancer, so the foundation supports the hospital.”
A Personal Approach to Philanthropy
In addition to providing substantial financial support to the foundation, Gordon is also personally involved with ongoing projects that fund research on pediatric cancers. His aim is to build a stron donaor base to ensure continued funding, and he involves community and business leaders in the effort.
“Our annual donor luncheon is coming up soon in Charlotte. It’s a great event that gives me the opportunity to engage donors in our work,” Gordon says. “We have expanded our guest list to include local business leaders because we want our local community to be more involved.
“Recently, we have partnered with an organization on a new grassroots fundraising effort called Kick*It, and I am really excited about this opportunity for the fans and donors to get involved in their community,” he continues. “In July, we’ll have our annual bowling tournament in Indianapolis that benefits Riley Hospital for Children.”
Each year, Gordon also donates his personal Corvette to the foundation, and the car is raffled to raise funds for research. The 2012 car is a Grad Sport 4LT convertible and will be raffled in September.
“This is an exciting year for us, “ Gordon explains. “We’re expanding our efforts to make the biggest and best impact on advancements in childhood cancers. We are beginning to narrow our efforts to focus heavily on the long-term effects of cancer treatments because it’s not only the cancer that is debilitating these children — it’s the treatments, which are not designed for their little bodies. We want to focus on changing that for them We feel strongly that we can reach the day when no child has to face the uncertainty of cancer and when the negative long-term effects of treatment are no longer an issue.”
Gordon’s initial project inspired by one child has grown into an organization that has raised more than $11 million for children’s charities. In addition to providing funding for pediatric cancer patients in the United States, the foundation recently began extending assistance even further.
“Childhood cancer is our top priority,” Gordon says. “We’re funding the best research in the United States and also providing access to cancer care for the children of Rwanda.”
Funding for pediatric cancer research is an ongoing challenge, but Gordon is determined to get more people involved in the effort. Using the same business acumen and personal tenacity that rocketed him to the top of the racing world, he is creating an easy-to-follow fundraising format through the foundation that can be utilized by individuals and replicated in any community.
“There are many ways people can get involved with the foundation,” Gordon says. “We have grassroots fundraising, which is the best way to get involved. Supporters can create their own fundraisers in their communities to help in the fight against childhood cancer. Our website makes it really easy to get started, and it’s a great way to engage family and friends. The foundation has a signature grassroots fundraiser that I mentioned before — Kick*It — and we encourage everyone to participate.”