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Craftsman Trucks

Rapid rise to big tracks

Not long ago Tina Gordon started driving in dirt-track ''powder puff'' races. Now she's taking on NASCAR.

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 14, 2003

DAYTONA BEACH -- Tina Gordon talks openly about driving on the Busch Grand National circuit. Could be next year. If not, then probably the following season.

It sounds like big talk for a woman whose racing experience dates back five years (not including specialty races) and who has bounced around and been nothing short of inconsistent the past two years.

But considering where and when Gordon's racing career began, where it is and all of a sudden "Tina Gordon, Busch Series regular" doesn't seem so improbable.

But first she has to conquer the Craftsman Truck Series.

Gordon's journey to the truck series began in Gadsden, Ala., where she described herself as a racing fan, "though I don't know if I would have been considered a diehard." Her husband, Gary, built a dirt-track car in 1995 and began racing at Green Valley Speedway in Gadsden. Tina attended races but only to cheer him on.

When the track sponsored powder puff races, Gordon's friends persuaded her to get into Gary's car. She won and, as they say in infields everywhere, was immediately bitten by the racing bug.

Gordon drove four more powder puff races, won them all, and decided it was time to do some real driving. She built a dirt-track car during the winter and ran against the guys in 1998. At least for part of the season.

Gordon quickly graduated from dirt-track Novas and Malibus to a five-eighths asphalt oval, Birmingham International Speedway. She drove her first race at the track where Bobby and Davey Allison began their careers in a Pontiac Grand Prix on June 12, 1998.

From there it was a quick jump to the NASCAR All-Pro Series in 1999 and 2000, then a 2001 season in which she "skipped around and ended up in an ARCA car at Talladega to finish the season."

Gordon, 33, ran four ARCA races last year, including Daytona, Charlotte, Talladega and Atlanta. It was an up-and-down season that featured a horrific crash in May at Charlotte in which she broke her lower left leg and right toe.

That crash, two months after Gordon finished eighth at Atlanta, put a big dent in her season but Gordon recovered to finish 12th at Talladega in the season finale.

That was enough for RDS Motorsports to sign her to a full-time deal this season. She will be the second woman -- not that gender matters when you're on the track, she said -- to drive regularly on the truck circuit, following in the footsteps of Tammy Jo Kirk in 1997. Kirk finished 20th in points that year, seventh out of 29 in the rookie of the year standings.

Gordon has loftier goals than that.

"Our goals are to be the rookie of the year and finish top 15 in points," Gordon said. "If we could do that it would be phenomenal. Then maybe another season next year and then move up to Busch and then Winston Cup."

Not bad for someone who was feeling her way around a dirt track a little more than five years ago, huh?

"It's real exciting just to be full time after the last few seasons when I kicked around a little bit," Gordon said. "It's all moved very fast."

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