Most of the many friends I have I have made in the Roamin Angels in my short 3 years with the club, know that I have a long relationship with NASCAR Legend and Hall of Famer, Jeff Gordon. I have shared some of that background with some friends in the club but our Diane Blakley asked me if I would consider sharing it in an article published in our Newsletter. So, with all that said, here goes…
Growing up in Benicia and Vallejo, I was a gearhead at birth. My dad had a drag boat and drove 280 Hydroplanes. My Uncle was a drag racer, racing in many classes and was involved with the first small block Chevy fuel dragster to run 200mph. If that wasn’t enough, my next-door neighbor raced hardtops at the famous Vallejo Speedway. I spent most Saturday nights there from when I was about 6 years old through high school!
Fast forwarding a bit, when I was a junior in high school, 1972, I took a summer job with a hospital equipment company in American Canyon, right between Napa and Vallejo. My job was to repair and service wheelchairs as well as build specially adapted chairs. There I met this brilliant guy named John Bickford. (Goggle the name!)
John ran the Automotive Department. This department installed hand controls for paraplegics to drive with, wheelchair lifts and raised roofs in passenger vans. During that time, John designed and engineered the first vans that could be driven by quadriplegics with no assistance.This involved riding the lift to enter the van then driving the chair onto a platform in the driver’s compartment, lowering the platform down with the chair about 6 inches giving the person in the chair a correct height for driving. This was a huge challenge, but John took any challenge head on and always solved them with amazing results.
I was 17 then but already could weld, fabricate, build motors, etc. so John and I hit it off right away. In addition, John owned and built hardtops driven by Gene Dudley from Napa, my Neighbors biggest competitor, who had Larry Damitz in the car who won several championships over the years.
So back to Jeff Gordon! >Working at the same company was this really cute lady who was a bookkeeper, recently divorced, with a very young daughter and a one year old son. Her name was Carol Gordon. Seeing the connection yet?
John, single as well and not one to miss an opportunity, pursued Carol and they were married in 1973 . Effectively, that was the beginning of Jeff Gordon’s racing career.
Shortly after their marriage, John and Carol purchased a driving hand control company, Mobility Products and Design, known as MPD. Obviously, John and Carol, left their jobs at the hospital equipment company and they opened the new business in an old moving and storage building near downtown Vallejo.
The office manager of the Automotive Division, who was a quadriplegic, bought the division and hired me as Shop Manager and future partner. We also set up the new company, Driving Aids, in a warehouse in Vallejo.
As part of the deal, Driving Aids inherited all the existing automotive projects that john and his group had begun before all the changes. For the next few years both companies worked very hard to get established. John was very supportive for engineering and consulting help while Driving Aids completed some of the projects John started.
During this time, John was very involved with young Jeff in his interest in all sports. One thing Jeff really took to was BMX Bike racing. Coincidently there was a BMX facility very close to their home in Vallejo. This is where John really noticed Jeff’s very competitive spirit in a racing situation and as a result, with John’s coaching, Jeff did very well.
Fast forward again, Jeff is now 5, his sister Kim is probably 8 and John comes home with 2 Quarter Midget race cars!
Next month – The early years of Jeff Gordon Racing.
More information and other sites of interest:
- Jeff Gordon’s Dad: How To Make Your Kid A Star Racecar Driver By Hannah Elliott – Forbes – https://jeffgordon.com/jeff-gordons-dad-how-to-make-your-kid-a-star-racecar-driver/
- The Vallejo Speedway Hall Of Fame … Photos and commentary regarding Gene Dudley and Larry Damitz. – http://vallejospeedwayhardtops.homestead.com/
- ‘The Bickford Effect’ : http://www.gordonline.com/editorials/050204.html
- Photo of the Quarter Midget racer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quarter_Midget_racing
About the author:Roamin Angel Randy K. retired from Medical Device Industry (MDI) in 2016. Now pursuing his passion of restoring and working on classic cars, hot rods, muscle cars and hi-performance boats.