Todd Gordon’s first job in NASCAR, on the Phil Parsons Racing team, wasn’t fabricator or mechanic or engineer. It was floor sweeper.
“When I interviewed with Phil, I told him all the things I thought I could do to help him,” Gordon says. “He asked me if a broom fit my hand, and I said, ‘Sure. Let’s go to work.’”
Gordon had recently moved to Hickory, North Carolina, coming from a mechanical engineering job in New York, where he spent weekdays designing zero-turn lawn mowers for Ferris Industries. Weeknights were spent in the shop — late nights fine-tuning his racecar — and weekends were spent late-model racing. Gordon’s wife inspired the career change when she asked him, “Why work and race? Why not work in racing?”
At Phil Parsons Racing, Gordon quickly learned how to work in almost every position on the small team, whether that was making bodies and fitting windows as a fabricator, assembling cars as a mechanic, or engineering. But that was only the beginning. Fast forward, and Gordon has just finished his first year as the crew chief for Penske’s Ryan Blaney, after a seven-year stint — including a NASCAR Series Cup Championship in 2018 — as Joey Logano’s crew chief.
Gordon compares being a crew chief to being a head football coach; on race days, he is responsible for almost everyone on the team, including the car chief and mechanics, the engineers, the pit crew, and the driver. But the most important part of his job, he says, is strategy: “The biggest challenge of calling a good race is anticipating not only what you want to do but what the others are going to do. So if you have a caution come out and you’ve got 10 laps on tires, staying out works if you’re going to be at the front of the line and four or five cars stay out with you. But if you’re the only guy to stay out and everybody comes to get tires, you’re at a disadvantage.”
At the end of the season, Gordon, Blaney and their team celebrated a competitive year and a major win at Talladega Superspeedway in June, hopefully the first of many. “He’s got a lot of runway ahead of him,” Gordon says of Blaney. “Tons of talent, tons of speed. I look for opportunities to develop his raw talent and let the game slow down for him. It’s been fun to watch that.”
Next year, Gordon is looking forward to more one-on-one time with Blaney, something that has been a real challenge this year due to COVID-19. Drivers aren’t allowed in the shop, and protocols have been taken very seriously on the racetrack. “I think NASCAR’s done a really good job of returning to racing and not putting us in a terrible position,” Gordon says. “But that makes it challenging to learn a new guy and guide a new guy. Texting is one level, calling another. But face-to-face is a third yet.”
Looking back, Gordon knows he couldn’t have become a winning crew chief without taking that broom from Phil Parsons so many years ago.
His advice? “Never think something’s beneath you. Always take the opportunity and see what you can make of it.”