NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon had better watch out because a 10-year-old is after his job.
Napa’s James Bickford is climbing the quarter-midget ranks and has already won more events and trophies than the four-time Sprint Cup champion and Vallejo native had at that age.
There are lots of families in the wide world of racing. There’s the Andrettis, Foyts, Pettys, Earnhardts, Busches, Rahals, Forces and Pedregons to name a few.
Though they don’t share a last name, Gordon and Bickford share family ties. They’re cousins.
“I haven’t seen James race; John Bickford, my stepfather, keeps me informed and it sounds like James is doing very well,” Gordon said. John Bickford is also Gordon’s business manager.
“If his dad is anything like John Bickford, James could have a great future in racing.”
John’s brother Tom is James’ father.
“James drives with passion and commitment; he is relentless in is drive to win,” John Bickford said. “This is a character found in all professional champions.”
James Bickford is a fourth-grader at St. Apollinaris in Napa. He has his sights set on following in his cousin’s footsteps and taking stock car racing by storm. He’s graduated from driving Junior Stock and now races Light Mods and Senior Stock. Much of the time, Bickford is racing against 16-years-olds and showing them age ain’t nothing but a number.
He admits he gets an extra kick out of beating the teenagers.
“I want to be a NASCAR driver because it’s so competitive,” Bickford said. “It’s just a lot of fun. It’s just really cool. NASCAR is an awesome sport and I’m on the pathway to it.”
Bickford first piloted a quarter-midget when he was 5 — the same age as Gordon.
“James has probably won as many races as Jeff, maybe more,” Tom Bickford said. “I think James has won more championships than (Gordon) did. We’ve lost track. I think he’s won over 200 main events. He’s got about 300 or 400 trophies. He’s always one of the top competitive cars for sure.”
James Bickford has won 13 championships in the past two years. That includes 90 A-main wins and 125 heat victories.
“I would consider him very aggressive,” Tom Bickford said. “Not win or crash, he’s too smart a driver. He figures out how to win. He’s aggressive and figures out how to get it done.
“I always tell the story when James met with Jeff. James was first starting out in quarter midgets and he was crashing quite a bit. He really wanted to win. He didn’t know how to win so he was just trying everything he could. Jeff told him you must first finish to finish first. James took that with him. That was good advice.”
James Bickford will get another opportunity to pick his cousin’s ear about racing this June, when the Sprint Cup comes to Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway. Gordon is the winningest driver at the 10-turn, 1.99-mile road course with five wins and five poles and considers it one of his favorites. His most recent win was in 2006. Then-rookie Juan Pablo Montoya is the defending champion.
Bickford is well aware that jumping from quarter midgets straight into a Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series car isn’t possible. Right now he drives 40-50 miles per hour but only races on ovals. His dad wants to put him into a go-kart to get some road course training and eventually a Bandolero, which races on both.
Legends would be the next step after that, but Bickford can’t hop into one until he’s 14. And he won’t able to jump into a NASCAR ride until he’s old enough to vote. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Joey Logano waited patiently for his 18th birthday, which was last week, and will make his debut Saturday in the Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway.
But age isn’t the only thing keeping kids from making their speed-filled dreams come true. It’s not exactly an easy profession to break into.
“He’s pretty amazing out there, what he can do at his age,” Tom Bickford said. “We race 48 weeks in a row all over the country. He’s got a lot of experience for a kid his age. He’s been all over the country. As my brother says, he’s filling his prerequisites in becoming a professional driver.
“There’s a lot of talent out there that doesn’t get a crack at it. We want to put him against some real competitive racers and on bigger tracks with faster cars. He’s at an early age but they move on quick. The next four years are probably going to be really critical. We’ll keep out there racing as much as we can.”
John Bickford added, “The sport of NASCAR has changed so much in the past few years, drivers following in Jeff’s footsteps will likely fail at entering NASCAR. New steps need to be created. James will need to be 18; I expect to see a lot of changes between now and eight years from now. He has the passion and athletic skills (but) he needs a lot of luck.”