"I know of other drivers and crew members who have always given back," he says. "Is that because of the dangers that we face? I think there is a real sense of how short your life could be when you are a racecar driver. It can be dangerous. I have seen deaths and major accidents."
Gordon, whose collision with Kurt Busch on Oct. 16 in Martinsville, Va., thrust him into 20th place for the day, quickly shifts from the existential to the experiential. "I make a great living … more than I ever thought I could driving a racecar. I feel so blessed and so fortunate. I have to balance out the good with giving back."
He seems to have achieved that through empathy with the less fortunate. "I remember a kid, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, had open-heart surgery, and he came to school and showed us a big scar down his chest." That and the leukemia diagnosis of a close colleague's 1-year-old were the only real encounters with juvenile illnesses for this father of two (Ella Sofia, 3, and Leo Benjamin, 3 months old).
Gordon is quick to admit that his new commitment to the Drive to End Hunger is obviously not based on personal deprivation. In fact, it is good fortune that heightens his awareness of how crucial its mission is to others. And by promoting the program to NASCAR Nation, where three-day tailgate parties are a fixture, he hopes his well-fed fans may be also moved to action.
"They'll say, 'Wait a minute. I know Chuck or Sally has a grandmother who is dealing with this.' A lot of times you don't necessarily have to be going through it yourself to realize you could be helping."
Gordon's thoughts return to his profession, racing cars. "I know we have a shot at winning," he says.
He's talking about the Sprint Cup and an upcoming race at Talladega.
Jack Curry, a former editor at USA Today, is a freelance writer and editor and serves on the editorial board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, specializing in corporate philanthropy and the media.