Racing's best-kept secret: SUPER Trucks
It doesn't take much to fire up Robby Gordon these days, not that it ever did. Just ask him about his super trucks.
"In a drag race," he starts on the phone, "one of these trucks will destroy a Z06 Corvette, the fastest one. By about 30 car lengths in a quarter mile. We run 650 horsepower, no restrictor."
"What's your email?" he asks.
He sends a video from a race. It shows huge trucks hitting metal jumps, soaring at warp speed. "That's 10 feet in the air, flat landing on asphalt, no downhill ramp, at 100 [mph]," he says. "And they do it all day long. And they run into each other all day long."
As its founder, Gordon is proud of what the Stadium SUPER Trucks series has become in two years. As its primary sponsor, via Speed Energy, which he also owns, he is betting it will get even bigger. And as its top driver who won $125,000 in prize money last year and podiumed in 12 of 14 races, he is the man to beat when Stadium SUPER Trucks debuts at X Games Austin next week.
Should Gordon fulfill that promise, it would add an embellishment to an already heavily feathered cap. His appearance alone strangely seems destined: Robby Gordon and the X Games, one of the last remaining novelties in his career. Few drivers in American motorsports history have done as much in as many places and disciplines as Gordon has. This is "Baja Bob" Gordon's kid, lest one forget. When your legendary dad still contends in 1,000-mile desert races each spring, you do not want for motivation.
Neither does Gordon mind flashing a little flavor -- still, at 45 years young. He has lived enough for 10 people, and he isn't afraid to skewer the man in the mirror.
Biggest race you ever won, Robby?
"How about the biggest race I didn't win? That would be Indy. We didn't blow it once, we blew it twice: '97 and '99."
Gordon will tell you about catching fire while leading the Indy 500 pack at 220 mph, and the leather skin that reminds him never to mistake methanol for water when his clothes are soaked in it; accidentally backflipping a Hummer at 125 mph in the desert; choking out Tony Stewart at Daytona; and driving for Dale Earnhardt Sr., who convinced him to leave open-wheel racing to become a stock car driver.
Gordon won IndyCar races and later Sprint Cup races but never the granddaddy of either sport. He left NASCAR two years ago convinced that top teams that outspend lesser teams would always have an insurmountable advantage.
"We didn't have the $20 million budgets, the $15 million budgets, to be able to compete at the top level," Gordon said. "So the idea with this super trucks series is to make it a drivers' series. And if that guy can pure, raw out-drive the other guy and is smart enough with his car control and natural ability, it turns into more of a skateboard event -- anybody can come compete with the same tools."
To that end, Gordon says his rivals are welcome to look under his hood.
"There's no secrets," he says. "I try to make sure not just one car but all the cars are prepared as equally as possible, to put on the most competitive event we can."
Stadium SUPER Trucks races -- which Gordon began pitching to ESPN two years ago -- run a lot like motocross events but with more dynamic machines. Trucks roar around a course for 15 to 20 minutes, bumping one another and launching off man-made jumps, their landings made possible by 26 inches of shock travel. "The way the X Games athletes can relate to the trucks is going to be air time," Gordon says.
Miss the first half of the race? No problem. At the midpoint of each heat, the race director signals for a competition caution that bunches up the trucks in their existing order, essentially resetting the field for a frenzied finale. It is one reason Gordon rarely leads from start to finish and why he says winning is a product of "survival" -- preserving his truck until the end.
Lest anyone get the wrong idea, however, Gordon still earns his no-nonsense reputation on the track. "He is definitely the most intense person you're going to face," says Justin Lofton, who finished third overall in the series last year and is among the favorites to win in Austin.
And the most experienced, which is a far cry from the third of the 15-man Austin field that's composed of teenagers. Gordon, a native of Anaheim Hills, California, grew up racing off-road with his dad and has essentially returned to his roots with his super trucks series. He is one of many famous drivers who cut their teeth in the long-defunct Mickey Thompson Off-Road Series, a group highlighted by four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears and six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
Gordon's goal with the stadium races, he says, is to bring back some of what Thompson created and "show people what we do in the desert. I say this is bringing Baja or Dakar to the masses."
He goes out of his way to recruit talent. In 2012, he persuaded open-wheel driver Arie Luyendyk Jr. to take a spin in his truck. Luyendyk had an almost transcendent experience. Soon after that, he quit IndyCar and began racing trucks full time. He will be among many gunning for Gordon in Austin. "I think this is the most extreme thing you can do on four wheels," Luyendyk says.
His peers say that Gordon ably wades through the conflicts of interest that come with owning the series that you drive in. He is approachable and eager to attract new fans, especially those who identify with the X Games, he says. Yet there is no mistaking who runs the show, whether he wins or not.
"When he wants something done a certain way, that's the way it's going to happen," Luyendyk says. "He's doing it his way because he owns everything. But I think he also does a good job handling all the roles."
Gordon has seen most of what there is to see in racing, good and bad. Given his perspective, sometimes people ask whether he has mellowed.
"Probably a little," he says. "But the desire for perfection and craftsmanship and gnarly racing, I've probably gotten wilder on that side."