When I first started teaching in 1996, I had a 7th Grade class. In that class I had a male student who really wasn't working up to his potential. After an interview with his parents, really nice people by the way, I decided to find a way to make this kid work up to his potential, or at least close enough to make everyone happy, including himself. I knew he liked racing and that Jeff Gordon was his favourite driver so I made a deal with him - if he brought his marks up by the end of the school year I would try my hardest to get Jeff Gordon's autograph for him.
Well, he worked his butt off and really improved his marks in the process. He lived up to his end of the deal, so I had to live up to mine. Through my friend Brad, who was (and still is) a Jeff Gordon fan, I was able to get the address for Hendrick's race shop housing the #24 operation. I composed a letter to Jeff, put it in an envelope, put a stamp on it, and gave it to the student to mail on his way home. He mailed it the last week of June, and soon forgot about the letter.
The following September came and the student was in Grade 8, I was still teaching 7th Grade and he had forgotten about the letter. Anyway, by the end of the month I received a letter address to the student c/o me at the school. I opened it to make sure of what it was, and yes it was an autographed picture of Jeff.
I called the student into my room after school, and he thought he was in trouble for something, but his attitude soon changed when I gave him the envelope. He was pretty happy about it let me tell you. He honestly thought there would be no response from my letter, so he was truly blindsided by the autographed picture.
I also did this with another student a few years later, and the driver in question was also Jeff Gordon. Again, within 3 months I received an autographed picture which made the student happy.
I really respect Jeff for handling the requests for autographs in such a timely fashion. Although Hendrick probably has people handling autograph requests for his drivers now a days, I don't think he did 10 yrs ago, when I made my first request. What is really stupid is that I never requested one for myself, and I should have - I may not cheer for Jeff, but I do respect him as a NASCAR driver and past champion.
One thing I would do differently next time is I would send either a SASE or a $1.00 for expenses along with my autograph request. I would imagine that Jeff gets a lot of requests for autographs, and he probably now has people working for him to handle the sheer volume of requests - author Stephen King does something similar - but the expense in postage, envelopes and pieces of cardboard to insert into each envelope to prevent the picture from bending during shipping must be enormous. He might have the expenses covered through Rick Hendrick, but what about those drivers who don't drive for such large teams who get autograph requests? Do you expect them to flip the bill? If you request an autograph through the mail, at least pay for the shipping costs.
Finally, the picture of Jeff Gordon along with this post was taken by me at the August Michigan race in 1995 during driver introductions. For more about that race and how I got to take this picture click here.