May 13, 2000 – Rome Wasn’t Built In A Day

There are a few of you out there who have probably been wondering what’s going on at Team Gordon these days. Not that we’ve disappeared or anything, just in the manner of attitude. Okay, maybe nobody notices, just us. But since mid-April’s Talladega roller coaster ride, Team Gordon is officially heading in the right direction and with positive thinking.

We had some aggravating outings in the early going that led to some grumbling internally. But that sort of stuff happens to everyone. We’ve also had a few good outings that have shown we have great potential. The problem with good races is that you don’t want those to go to your head and feel this game is easy. It isn’t, it’s damn hard every weekend.

We do have potential – great potential. I don’t want to confuse that non-issue. But honestly, it probably hasn’t been shown more this season than in the last two races at Fontana and Richmond. Seem odd to make that statement? Probably. You’ve got to be thinking, “Wait a second, they finished 31st and 37th at those races?”

Hear me out.

Last Saturday could have been a PR person’s biggest nightmare. Your driver’s out there struggling with a car that went tight from the moment the green flag dropped. His front brake rotors glowing so hot they make the neon orange paint on his car look like bad marmalade. It looked cool, you can imagine how hot those suckers must have been. It’s amazing the rotors didn’t melt down and return to a liquid form. But watching the car go by lap after lap, something was bound to happen as a result. And it did.


We blew out the right front tire. Nothing against Goodyear, I don’t think there’s a formula for rubber in this world that could withstand that kind of heat without combustion. The tire went, the sparks flew and Rob sailed into the wall etching Steven Baldwin’s Barney character in the turn three concrete. We’re not sure what did more damage, the crash or the trip back to the pits with a busted wheel and tire flogging the wheel well. Regardless, Robby spent 100 laps watching the race from our scoring stand. But rather than be angry about the scenario, Robby was as cool as they come. He did his ESPN interview and jumped back in the car when it was fixed, praising the crew for a job well done.

Very well done in fact, the car was better than it was before the crash.

Now fast forward to the end of the race. Tight again. Lots of brakes. Big glow.


This time one of the rotors broke in half. Robby drove straight to the transporter with the front end on fire. People were scrambling for water, extinguishers and in Mike Held’s case – a clump of ice.

Anyway, Robby pulled himself out of the car and walked into the lounge of the transporter. I thought to myself, “Okay, this should be interesting.”

I opened the door and the man was all smiles, “Hey Kinnon – what do you think?”

“What do I think?” Well, I guess I didn’t know at this point, I figured he’d be a little upset. But quite the opposite. All he could talk about was how fun Richmond was to drive and how the weekend was great all the way around. You’d have thought he would be ready to race there again the next day if the schedule could be changed.


What this tells me is that Robby is finally grasping the idea that Team Gordon, like Rome, cannot be built in a day. It takes a series of battles to which progress has to be measured in small gains.

Not that I want to give any one person credit for this turn about, because it takes the entire team to make things happen, but one of the big reasons is Richard Buck.

He’s the guy that rallies the troops and organizes all the factions within Team Gordon. He’s giving Robby a sense of security in knowing that jobs are getting done and done correctly. What he’s also doing is helping Robby realize that while building a successful team is going to take time, it will definitely happen. And that’s no more illustrated than in Robby’s attitude following these last two races. Sure, as I said, we finished 31st and 37th respectively. But we had productive weekends figuring out the car and adapting it to Robby’s driving. Instead of leaving the track with nothing but a finish on paper, we’re leaving with tangible information, acquired in a methodical way. Buck’s whole philosophy is centered around finding concrete answers to questions without outside variables muddying the results.

It all starts with basics. Buck’s resistant to the classic, “Well, I heard Rusty is using a 460 gear, so lets put that in” type attitude. Unless you really know what else Rusty has going on with that car it’s nothing more than a shot in the dark. I think all teams have their ears out to hear what the others are doing to some degree, but that type of knowledge should really only be used as a sidebar. It’s tough though, we were susceptible to it in the early going. When you struggle and you don’t have the provisional status of the top teams it’s easy to hear, “so-and-so” is using “such-and-such” and want to take it to the bank. Time is such a commodity on Fridays and stress levels so high to find speed, that the temptation to make drastic changes is attractive. But not in Buck’s world. You test and find a baseline, then make changes that provide results – both good and bad. Everything is charted and in turn, you build the book. It’s that simple.

At Fontana, we had a test the week prior to the race which was the best we’ve ever had. In two days the team learned more about the car and Robby than they probably had the first two months of the season. Buck had Robby driving at 90%, making small changes just so he could get a general feel for what a particular change does to the car. The entire first day was spent in like a Testing 101 class, just so everyone on the team could have a chance to get on the same page with the basics. After that, the test became more specific to Fontana. As a result of the test, Robby was fast. He was in the top-ten in practice every session of the race weekend with his only slip-up in qualifying where he admitted to being a little too conservative. In the race he wasn’t the fastest car, but he was holding his own for most of the day until the car tightened up. We made changes to the car which didn’t seem to help. In fact, the car at one point got worse. That was unfortunate, but it was still an entry in the books and an answer to a question.

After Fontana, Robby wasn’t as chipper as he was after Richmond, but he wasn’t in the dumps either. If anything, I think he was so excited about being fast in testing and practice that he assumed we’d be just as fast in the race. There were sponsors in town, family and friends, etc. He had reason to wish for a better outcome.

He said to me, “I just don’t understand how the #3 car and the #25 car got faster in the end? We had them covered all day.”

I told him, “Look, I don’t know much about setup, but I do know this. That’s Childress and Hendrick Racing you’re talking about. Those guys have notebooks on top of notebooks. That’s what you’re trying to do. Don’t get too wrapped up in the fact that they made a change for the better and you didn’t. Once upon a time they did exactly what you did, and there’s a reason they didn’t do it again.”

The point is simple. We now have the guy to create our database and take us to the next level.

How much time will that take? I don’t know. How could you know? But I have complete confidence now that it will happen and I think Robby does too which will only elevate his game.

– Kinnon