Today, Gordon drives 180 miles an hour, frequently tailgates at that speed, and will pass on the right or left, sometimes rubbing fenders with other cars in the process.
As the only full-time female driver in either of NASCAR's top two circuits, Gordon is doing everything she told her clients not to do, and she has a number of high-powered sponsors who are willing to assume the risk. There are a lot of drivers with more experience, but they are not breaking the same ground as Gordon.
"This is a very, very competitive business, and I know I am extremely fortunate to be where I'm at, with no more experience than I have," said Gordon, who ran her first race of any kind less than 10 years ago. "My story is different from most drivers, since I didn't even get into racing until 1995, and that was just in powder puff [all-female] races. A lot of these guys started at 8 or 9 years old and have 20 years at this. I haven't raced my whole life like a lot of these drivers have, but I'm learning and hopefully, catching up."
Gordon started this season in the Craftsman Truck Series, where she did not make the top 10 in 16 races, but she just recently jumped to the Busch Series and the Jay Robinson Racing team. Robinson put a lot of stock in her experience on the short-track circuit in Alabama, the same hallowed ground that played a big role in the development of racing legends Davey Allison, Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, and Neil Bonnett.
"We're excited to bring someone with Tina Gordon's potential to our race team," Robinson said. "Besides her obvious future as a driver, she is a great fit for the team and for our sponsors."
Gordon said the interests involved with the truck team did not mesh as well as she had expected, and there was no continuity of vision.
"About the only thing I can say is that the situation with the truck team was not working out," Gordon said. "It was not really what we thought it would be, and I was not happy and the sponsors were not happy. I had always heard about the chemistry issue on racing teams, but had never been faced with it before. We had an opportunity to run in the Busch Series and get a lot more exposure for our sponsors, and we took advantage of it."
Gordon stepped into the No. 39 Yahoo Ford three weeks ago at Daytona, and will run tomorrow in the Siemens 200 Busch race at New Hampshire International Speedway. She also plans to be in the field when the Busch Series returns to Michigan International Speedway next month.
"As I looked at the Busch races, on eight of the 16 tracks left on the schedule, I've never raced there before, but that's alright," said Gordon. "I'm here to drive this car the rest of the season to gain experience. It is all about getting seat time. We want to compete, but we are using the rest of this season to learn. We want to be prepared for a strong, full season next year."
Gordon, a 34-year-old native of Cedar Bluff, Ala., is married and has a 13-year-old son. She has seen the rough-and-tumble side of racing - a crash in an ARCA race several years ago left her with two broken bones in her leg, a metal rod running from her knee to her ankle, and two broken toes. She broke her left foot in a crash in the Atlanta truck race earlier this year.
"Once you put the helmet on, all of this talk about being a woman in auto racing goes away," Gordon said. "The car doesn't know what gender you are. You work just as hard, push just as hard, and take all of the same risks. Once you get in the car, it's all about racing and nothing else."
Gordon hopes to soon see the day when the novelty has worn off and she is no longer "that woman driver." She is not sure if that will take two years, five years, or longer.
"I don't think that anyone is going to give me a career just because I am a female," Gordon said. "When I get the opportunity to move up to the Nextel Cup level, I want to be more of a competitive driver. I am not at that level yet, but that's what we are building towards."
Gordon said she is seeing women make inroads into all aspects of racing, but the driver's seat will always be the toughest spot to earn, for anyone.
"There are more and more women getting involved in racing, but it might be more down the road before we see a lot of women involved, especially as drivers" Gordon said. "Women love this sport and there is a definite place for them in racing. I'm glad to be a female. I love it. I like doing my nails. I like dressing up, but I also like driving race cars."
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