Jeff Gordon, a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, was taken to the wood shed in his own charity go-kart race by blond, blue-eyed, 15-year-old, up-and-coming female racer Jessica Dana.
Gordon lost to Dana, who qualified on the pole and led every lap of the “Ultimate Speed” charity challenge at Victory Lane Karting in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I just stayed up front for the whole entire race,” Dana said. “It was fun.”
To add insult to injury for Jeff Gordon, his young nemesis has just recently started her go-karting career, in fact, a mere eight months ago.
Dana, who came all the way across the country from her home in Olympia, Washington, is a veteran driver in her own right, having started drag racing when she was eight years old.
“Last year, I asked my dad to take me to the local speedway that we have, and I was watching the cars go around,” Dana said. “And I go, ‘I really want to do this. Dad, will you get me into this?'”
In order to get some experience so she could achieve her dream, Dana went to a local go-kart track to get some seat time.
There she not only met her coach and mentor Mike Smith, a go-kart champion in his own right, but also began to truly show her talent behind the wheel.
“After six weeks of indoor karting, Mike Smith asked me to come down to nationals with him,” Dana said. “At nationals, I got one top-five and three top-10s after just six weeks of racing.”
Dana, an only child, comes by racing naturally.
Her father, Troy, raced motocross when he was growing up and had a short stint in stock cars himself.
“I have a deep-rooted love for all motorsports,” Dana’s father said. “I just love it all.”
But he is most proud of his young daughter, who has caught the racing bug herself.
“She’s turned into an amazing racer,” Dana said of his daughter Jessica.
The Dana family got the opportunity of a lifetime to showcase their young driver when Pacific Technical Resources, one of the sponsors of the Jeff Gordon charity race, invited the young racer to the competition.
Her coach, Mike Smith, who has also beaten Gordon in this same go-kart race in previous years, agreed to accompany her to the show.
Dana raced in three heats, with the second heat yielding her fastest lap. That lap landed Dana the pole position for the charity race, and she led every lap thereafter until the checkered flag.
“I passed him in practice, and that’s when I think he noticed me,” Dana said of the four-time champion Gordon.
There was no doubt that Jeff Gordon took notice of the young up-and-coming driver, especially after meeting her in Victory Lane. When asked if Jeff Gordon was annoyed that he had been beaten by a 15-year-old young woman, Dana replied that he was not upset in the least.
“He was actually really, really nice,” Dana said of Gordon, who is now officially her new favorite driver. “He came up to me after the race and said, ‘good job’ and he was a really nice guy.”
“Jeff was so gracious and so professional,” Dana’s father said. “I have a new-found respect and admiration for that guy.
“Jeff was out there competing and driving as hard as he could drive,” Troy Dana continued. “He was the first one to go up to Jessie and congratulate her and just made quite a big deal out of how remarkable her driving skills were.”
The “Ultimate Speed” go-kart competition raised funds for The Jeff Gordon Foundation. The funds from the race specifically will be used to purchase state of the art cardiac/respiratory monitors for patients at the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital.
Dana has had to skip school, where she is a freshman honor student in high school, to stick around Charlotte, North Carolina for the race weekend. Today, she visited the Childress race shop, and she will spend the rest of her time in North Carolina preparing for the third annual 24 Hours of Charlotte endurance race at the Victory Lane Indoor Karting track.
Dana will run as a member of two teams that will rotate seven drivers in and out of the 24-hour endurance race in stints of one-and-a-half hours each. The race will take place from 10:00 AM on Sunday, May 30 to 10:00 AM on Monday, May 31.
Dana is fortunate to have a list of sponsors supporting her in the charity race, as well as the 24 hour race.
Dana’s sponsors include Pacific Technical Resources, Pacific Real Estate Partners, Apex Karting in Tumwater, WA, and owners Phil and Dede Jasperson, Smith Racing Development, and D3 Consulting, her father’s company.
After winning the Jeff Gordon charity race, and hopefully, doing just as well in the 24-hour race, Dana will return home and continue working her way up the racing ladder.
“Jessica’s aspirations are that she just wants the opportunity, just like most talented racers,” Troy Dana said. “We’re going to look really hard to see if there is a team out there looking for that next Danica Patrick, albeit the blond, blue-eyed version.”
But young Dana’s dream is even bigger. Her ultimate goal is to be the first female racer to replace her newest favorite driver and four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.
And if Jessica Dana’s performance against Jeff Gordon in the “Ultimate Speed” go-kart race is any indication, this young and talented woman may do just that.
Photo credit: Troy Dana