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Gordon May Face Unexpected Challenges in Career Transition

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Anyone who has ever changed careers will admit there is excitement and anticipation, as well as challenges to be faced in learning a new craft.

And while there is no doubt @JeffGordonWeb will master his transition from four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to television  analyst for FOX Sports, he may face some interesting challenges along the way.

Being the astute professional he is, Gordon has already acknowledged some of the more ‘expected’ shifts to which he must adjust as he prepares to commentate on his first race of the 2016 season, the Daytona 500.

Others include:

Preparation Practicalities

One of Gordon’s first tests will be mastering the differences in approaching a race as a driver versus calling  a race from the booth, which he recently acknowledged as a major switch.

“Typically, this time of year, I would be in meetings with the team, talking about race cars, testing, upcoming races, and new processes that maybe we were going to be going through,” Gordon said. “Let’s say, for instance, the new digital dash. I’d be getting acquainted with that.

“Right now, what I’m more focused on is, what are the storylines? What kind of conversations are going to take place? What expectations are out there on the track? Who’s the big storylines?”

In other words, Gordon’s pre-season will now move from a micro approach to much more of macro view of the sport as he evolves from an individual focus to finding the stories involving all drivers, as well as the sport in general.

Differences in Data Gathering

In his past world as a driver, Gordon would be immersed in analyses with his crew chief, engineers and team members. As a sports broadcaster, however, Gordon will have to find new sources for what he will discuss and how he will monitor the pulse of the teams, sanctioning body and the fans.

“It’s paying more attention to what’s happening on social media, listening to Sirius NASCAR radio — just really trying to gather as much of that information as possible from the fan and the media’s perspective,” Gordon admitted, “more so than from within the team.”

This change in compiling and collecting information is not only significant but may be even more time consuming and involved than Gordon ever imagined possible.

New Chemistry Creation

While Gordon has been accustomed to creating significant relationships with his crew chief, spotter and team, he will have to focus on creating a new kind of chemistry with his fellow broadcasters.

One of the biggest challenges will be learning the cadence of the race calls and even the timing of when to speak so as not to step on the toes of others with whom he is sharing the stage.

“You have to transition back away from it, whether to allow Mike (Joy) or DW (Darrell Waltrip) to give their thoughts, to go to pit road, to Larry Mac (Larry McReynolds), whatever,” Gordon said of his television partners. “Having someone in your ear while you’re trying to finish a thought and make it seamless will be challenging.”

Verbose to Concise

Curbing his tendency to be a bit loquacious and learning to be more succinct might be one of the biggest challenges for Gordon. The driver turned analyst will instead have to master the snappy answers that capture the moments on the track simply and quickly.

“You don’t have a lot of time to get your thoughts out there,” Gordon said. “The Cup races will be longer, but between what’s happening on track or the next break coming up, there’s a small window of opportunity to discuss a topic.”

In addition to these expected considerations, there are other realignments Gordon will have to make that may be a bit more unexpected. Yet mastering them is equally important if he is to flourish in his new role.

Some examples of those types of more challenging transitions include the following:

Political Correctness vs. Potentially Critical

For the majority of Gordon’s career, he’s been known for his political correctness. So, it will be a most interesting transition to go from having to be politically correct, supporting the sanctioning body, his team and sponsors, to actually looking at those types of calls with a more discriminating eye.

Gordon even alluded to that possibility in his banquet speech, where he talked about not missing debris cautions. Handling those types of calls from the booth, especially when the type of debris is in question, will be a potential conundrum for the new race reporter.

Another aspect of moving into a more critically-focused role will be Gordon’s possibility of having to negatively comment on his former team, one with whom he still maintains a significant relationship, or his former teammates, including a driver like Jimmie Johnson in whom he has a continuing financial interest.

There will no doubt be thoughts swirling in Gordon’s head and perhaps even some pauses in his analysis when his allegiances to those on and off the track conflict with his fidelity in providing the most objective commentary about the race events.

Brotherhood to Outside the Inner Circle

In NASCAR, there are 43 drivers that comprise the fellowship of the Cup Series. And for twenty-plus years, Gordon has been a part of that tightly knit brotherhood that stands together even as they compete at the elite level.

While he may not realize it yet, Gordon has left that inner circle and is now in fact at least one step, if not more, removed from that exclusive group of drivers. And even more difficult, he is officially a part of the media corps, a group that those occupying the seat of a race car are wary of and even at times avoid.

Change in Fandom

While Gordon was not the most popular driver at the beginning of his career, especially as he traded paint with Dale Earnhardt, he grew his fan base over the years to one of the biggest. And in his last year before hanging up the steering wheel, Gordon was even beloved as evidenced by the admiration shown by the fans as he took his final bow at each track on the circuit.

The adoration Gordon may have to become accustomed to, however, may not last as he positions himself in front of the microphone. In fact, depending on the types of calls he makes, he may even receive some push back from the fans.

The shift from being revered to potentially criticized may indeed be one of the major transitions he has not anticipated as he enters this new world of television entertainment.

Whatever the challenges thrown Gordon’s way, be they expected or unanticipated, he espouses the fact he is absolutely ready for them and cannot wait to begin this new chapter in his life. And he will no doubt attack his career change in the same way he did since he was a tike just learning to fight his way to Victory Lane.

“I’m competitive,” Gordon said. “I’m competitive with myself, so I get to still be a part of not only a competitive sport but push myself to be better and have those challenges and goals as I’m in the booth and being a part of the broadcast.

“That’s certainly going to be a learning experience for me and a challenge also. But it allows me to still be involved in the sport that I’m passionate about and love. I just get to be a part of it from a different perspective.”


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Mary Jo Buchanan

Mary Jo Buchanan has been a race fan since her childhood, having grown up at a local Pennsylvania dirt track. With her experience in the pits, she has developed an interest and expertise in all levels of racing, from the local scene to the highest level of the sport. Many of her articles focus on the ‘behind the scenes’ and sometimes ‘off the beaten path’ stories about the world of racing. Buchanan also enjoys writing about up and coming drivers and the people that make NASCAR work on a daily basis.